Aloft withToots and a Kindle

25 02 2011

Xavier Cugat far Left

“Cuanto Le Gusta le gusta le gusta le gusta le gusta …Someone said they just came back from somewhere, a friend of mine that I don’t even know. He said there’s lots of fun if we can get there, if that’s the case… that’s the place, the place we want to go. We got to get going, where’re we going, what are we going to do, we’re on our way to somewhere, the three of us and you…”

 

As the snows reluctantly recedes—although the Midwest is once more beset and it is also snowing, albeit lightly, at my destination—I board an aeroplane again and become an harbinger of spring. The robins fly north every spring and I fly to the east coast.
New York City beckons in the east as Toots Thielemans performs “La Vie En Rose” on the mouth organ via my iPod. For lovers of science fiction, modern travel lends itself to the joys of high tech toys. Music from said iPod, blog posts written on a Lenovo Ideapad netbook (I mention the brand because it is so far superior to my two previous travel-computers—first was an Asus EEE which I still hate although it is long out of my life. The second was an Acer which performed well enough but whose death was only slightly preceded by the expiration of its warranty. The Lenovo functions wonderfully for having the slow Intel Atom processor. I upgraded the RAM to the allowable max of 2 gig, upgraded the execrable Windows 7 Basic to the very nice Home Premium, mais voila—a nice, light-weight travel companion for a small output of spondulicks.).
Now Toots is hitting it with “Hymne á l’amour” whilst visions of Kindles dance in my head. The Kindle III (WiFi only) came into my life late in the year of 2010. As with many unions, especially those involving extra-species (I promised my Martian son I would not speak of his mother, the Shenga joint bar maid in old Jekkara.) the beginning was not smooth.
My Kindle misbehaved on a regular basis, finally rebooting every five minutes on the last air excursion of the previous year. So I turned it in for another, but the bad behavior continued and I began to wonder what sort of relationship I had gotten myself into. Late one evening just after my Kindle had rebooted yet again, in despair, I began to yearn for a Nook and I dreamt of holding it near. Then, I remembered a technician asking about the Kindle cover which I had purchased. It actually inserted two prongs into the Kindle body. I disconnected my device from the cover and it began to function perfectly! A call to Amazon—they would not say there were cover problems, but they did not argue and allowed me to acquire a lighted cover at no cost.

 

Kindle III

Since, my Kindle and I are inseparable. We go everywhere together. She…I mean IT, reads to me as I drive to and from work. She It is not very musical, but the light works quite well and we cuddle in bed late at night and read books.
Now, airborne, I have listened to a book—Sten Book 1 by Cole and Bunch, a rousing science fiction adventure, I sold the book when it first came out. I was working for Warner Communications in those days and we distributed Del Rey. I used to bug Owen Lock constantly, “When’s the next Sten book coming?

Judy-Lynn & Lester Del Rey

Judy-Lynn used to send me photocopies of manuscripts of my favorite authors…” Owen was so nice and I loved the Chinese books he produced for Ballantine.—Today I have read bits of three books: Pathfinder by O.S. Card, several Clovis stories from H.H. Munro (Saki), “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences” by one Samuel Clemens; I have used the OED which comes loaded on the Kindle, and I read a manuscript from a friend of a friend so that I might critique it. Glorioski but I do love my little burnt-orange-clad darling. Kindle, this blog’s for you.

Ha, couldn’t find Xavier but here’s his protege, Charo:
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Reflections on a Hot Bath #1

12 12 2010

Japanese Macaques

Sitting IN a hot bath–When one stands or sits or moves in meditation, the sensation, the very first hint of the presence of qi is a feeling…in the fingertips. “Your qi is flowing.”

Western science says this sensation is the direct result of extended study. One of the foundations of internal martial arts is relaxation–Song (See “Everybody Wants Peng” http://seattlesilverdragon.wordpress.com/2008/09/26/everyone-wants-peng/). When, through diligent practice, the proper amount of relaxation is achieved, a sensation is detected. Tingling or perhaps warmth is felt in the fingertips. This means the very smallest capillaries in the fingers are opening up, perhaps for the first time of years, and blood is filling them.

This is qi. Sublime relaxation.

When one steps into an excrutiatingly hot bath, a similar phenomenon occurs. But this is a sort of capillary rape. The hot water rips them open and blood rushes in. The sensation is a mixture of pain and pleasure and a mild sadness follows once the capillaries have achieved their maximum dialation.

What is qi? There are many answers and probably most of them are right. But be aware the next time you bathe.





The Power of Words

29 08 2010

Illuminated KJV Initials

Last night it was time to read an ARC for book review purposes. I opened it and began. The first letter of the first word of the first sentence of chapter one was illuminated. The word was unknown to me. Add the illumination and I was completely at a loss. Fortunately I know the fine editor of this fine book and so asked him to elucidate. He admitted that he was a bit worried about this himself and might change it in the final version.

 This thought led me astray and it was some time before I was back reading. [ Strange interlude-once I made it past the first letter the illuminated initial, I was thoroughly caught up in the novel and read into the wee hours] “So,” thinks I, methinks. We editorial types spend an inordinate amount of time worrying over a single word in a book full of words. Or do we? Then I muses on the nature of a book, I does. And I came to a conclusion that is pretty damned obvious unless you are not thinking about it.

 Every word in a book is of equal importance. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it is effing true. If any word is unnecessary, then what in the hell is it doing in the book? So all those “the’s” and “and’s” and “but’s” and “I’s” mean something. And it is right and correct then, that editors fret over each and every word. I still shiver with this thought. It is as if a physicist were worrying over the existence and placement of every atom…or quark.

Aum in Tibetan Script

 Middle-of-the-night thought processes are often non-linear. So ma’ wee tiny brain does a lurch and turns right at the nearest black hole and I winds up in India, or, for my purposes, in Tibet with Aum. I was taught by a teacher in the Tibetan tradition, that “Aum” is the presence of all sounds. Every sound in the universe, or universes, is and are all expressed at the same time by pronouncing “Aum.”

 I first learned about the power of Aum through other sounds. I was studying with this same teacher, learning a most wonderful internal martial art called Tibetan Blue Heron 藍鷥拳. Lord of mercy but this is one fine fighting system. It is similar in some respects to the better-known Crane style, but there are differences. It was brought to China by a wandering Tibetan monk, Lama, Zurdwang (1530 -1620) from Quamdo, Tibet. Sometimes it feels, in the bones, like Taijiquan. One major aspect is striking at acupuncture points. It is a subtle art among subtle arts. 

American Great Blue Heron

In our warm-ups, we learned a particular meditation practice. I call it Heng-Hung. We would practice controlling our breathing and focus on our centers. As we intoned “Heng” we would mentally move our centers up into the thorax, and then on a lower note, “Hung” or maybe “Hoong” and move the center down to the dandian. We were learning to move our centers at will. Ai-ya, what a fine practice.

 And there was power in those words. Night after night we meditated and intoned the words and we gained greater control of our centers.

 At this same time I was pushed kicking and screaming and dragging my heels into a meditation class. I didn’t want to learn how to meditate. I wanted to learn how to fight. Ha, to quote my Centering teacher, who gestured with his hand indicating the large wushu practice room and 40 odd students clad in black hifus and cotton shoes, “This is all bullshit! Unless you learn meditation and centering, you will have nothing!”

 So, I learned to meditate. And we were taught a mantra. It was a mantra of prosperity and we chanted it to bring good fortune to our school. It began and ended with Aum. Now at the same time I was studying acupuncture—how can you strike your opponent’s acupuncture points if you don’t know where they are? And I learned Centering, physical and mental, and Chinese Yoga (which included the feat of using each and every muscle separately), and the manipulation of Subtle Energy. Holy Moley but I learned a lot in just a couple of years.

 So we sang Aum, and with the Heng-Hoong training we found that we could move the Aum around inside the body. Change the shape of the mouth and the pitch of the sound and use your mind and Aum moved up inside the skull and then down into the thorax and the abdomen and the vibrations could be varied and watch your breathing now, and, and it was marvelous. We learned to know and control our own bodies. How many people can say that?

 To this day I am a little cautious when it comes to saying Aum in public. The word is a word of power even if only inside my own body, and with the cavity resonance it can be loud or soft or penetrating or caressingly smooth. It is my favorite word in a career involving many, many words.

Gutenberg Bible A book, and an example of illumination

 Perhaps then, a book, with all of its words, to turn things around, perhaps a book is a fraction of Aum and in its totality and in each and every word, it is a thing of power.

Shifu John Painter demonstrates Tibetan Blue Heron techniques





Ain’t Nobody in Here But Us…

11 08 2010
 Birds (class Aves) are winged, bipedal, endothermic (warm-blooded), egg-laying, vertebrate animals. There are around 10,000 living species, making them the most varied of tetrapod vertebrates. They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from the 5 cm (2 in) Bee Hummingbird to the 2.75 m (9 ft) Ostrich. The fossil record indicates that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs during the Jurassic period, around 150–200 Ma (million years ago), and the earliest known bird is the Late Jurassic Archaeopteryx, c 150–145 Ma. Most paleontologists regard birds as the only clade of dinosaurs to have survived the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event approximately 65.5 Ma. Wikipedia

Lake Sammamish

 I was idling on East Lake Sammamish Parkway two weeks ago, of a morning, with the beautiful lake on my left. My windows were down, my moon roof was open and just ahead of me some gigantic piece of earth moving equipment was growling and twisting and turning and pawing at the ground. Stop-sign-bearing worker bees in yellow plastic hats warned me to halt. Summer in Seattle is a time of never-ending road construction. The constant piddly-pitter-patter of winter rains wears at the roads and summer is the best time to fix everything. And so I was stopped.

 It was a nice cool northwest morning, and a Lois McMaster Bujold story was playing on my iPod. I enjoy, immensely, the dulcet tones of voice star Grover Gardner. No one can ever be Miles Vorkosigan but he.

Crow

I looked to my right, and on the sidewalk, a single industrious crow was worrying at some food. I looked closer and saw a spill of peanuts. The crow held a nut down with his foot and pecked, peck, peck, peck, until a chunk of goober pea broke away. Then it picked the piece up and lifting its bill, swallowed. Rinse and repeat.

 I love the way crows sometimes hop, two-footed, up onto the curb, down into the gutter, somewhat reminiscent of Chinese hopping vampires. This particular crow hopped about and eventually consumed two or three peanuts. Then above me…I looked up through the open moon roof, above me was a second crow, perched on the power lines. It cawed and the one on the sidewalk flew away. I do not speak crow and so have no idea what had just happened.

 Then crow secondo flew down and approached the peanuts. This guy was not so bright. First he tried to swallow an entire peanut in one gulp, choked, and coughed the nut back out onto the sidewalk. Nor was he a great learner. He went snatch, snatch, snatch, and gathered three peanuts into his bill and tried to fly away with them. But it was too many and they all fell out back to the sidewalk, where a third crow landed. I did not get to watch this one’s methods as traffic began to go forward, it was our time to creep past the earth machine, hoping it did not swallow us up or crush us.

Northwest Bald Eagle

 Just after clearing the construction area there was a flash in the air in front of me and a bald eagle swooped over the road with a fish in its talons and landed in a tree. Ha, ha, what a sight. I do love to watch bald eagles. [Strange interlude: There are two subspecies of bald eagles—I just learned this from Edward O. Wilson’s splendid autobiography Naturalist–Haliaeetus leucocephalus is the southern and nominate subspecies, the bird chosen as our national symbol—but I was looking at Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis which is the larger northern subspecies Thank you Doctor Wilson for taking time out from your ants to look upward.]

 And thus we arrive at the point of this story, taking the round-about way as when I travel the road to work, winding along beautiful Lake Sammamish, always turning a short story into a long one…I love birds. Of all the animals creeping, crawling, slithering, flying…of all these creatures, I most love birds. Birds are beautiful. They are delicate. They are powerful, and fierce, and strong, and glorious. And smart. They are tool users—and, and, tool makers.

 When I moved to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, one of the first things I did was put up two bird feeders in my backyard. I had begun watching birds whilst living in Texas and loved me some mockingbirds and cardinals and hated grackles with a passion. But I was not familiar with the birds of Wisconsin. Then one weekend afternoon I was sitting in my den. A blackish-white kind of bird fluttered down to the feeder suction-cupped to my window (the feeder, not the bird). This bird spread its wings to break its descent and I was treated to a glorious flash of red chest and inner wing. It was a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak. Wow, this cardinal’s cousin was a beauty. And, as with many birds, the male is the gaudy one—just showin’ off.

 I love to watch birds walk, with different species having a different number of forward and back facing toes, they can walk in several ways. And those side-facing eyes are a marvel as well. When you think a bird is looking straight at you, it is not. When it cocks its head, one eye toward you, then turns that head so that the other eye takes a gander as well, then that is when you have attracted the attention of said avian. 

Male Cockatiel

Birds are smart. They are tool users. They are affectionate. They are social. I had a second-hand cockatiel for a number of years and I loved him dearly. He is my second favorite…I refuse to use the term “pet,” the animals in my life were my friends and my companions…anyway, only my beloved cocker spaniel, Pretty Maggie Money-Eyes was ever any dearer to me. And Maggie was really my daughter, not my dog, and I was her boy. But I digress…Terry the cockatiel was a friend. It took a while for us to get to know one another.

 A co-worker kept saying “My damned bird won’t die!” Over and over I heard this until I said, “Okay, I’ll take him.” I did not even know what a cockatiel was. This one was well over ten years old and books said the average life span was five. What was I getting myself into? Was I adopting some geriatric sack of feathers? And I had a cat. What indeed was I doing? That first night I sat in the kitchen with Terry’s cage on the kitchen table. The door was open and he slowly emerged. I had bought some millet. I soon found out that millet was Terry’s catnip.

Amazon

 My Grand Shifu had taught me how to handle birds when we did a photo shoot for Internal Arts magazine with a dove. Ha, Shifu had worked as a stage magician in his youth. You extend your index finger, bump up against the bird’s chest, and he walks straight forward and climbs aboard. The night Terry flew over to my shoulder, walked up to the back of my head and began grooming me was a great delight. Goose bumps sprung up.

 And losing Terry was a great sadness. I still dream about him, but he made it to 18, well beyond the average cockatiel lifespan. But I suspect this lifespan is so low because these parrots are cheap and owners have no respect and mistreat them.

Scarlet Macaw

 Of course, being the reader that I am, I devoured every book on cockatiels (there were not many) and subscribed to Bird Talk magazine and came to love the entire parrot species… psittacines, and loved to visit pet shops and interact with the parrots or simply watch them…and I got to know the keeper of the bird house at the Fort Worth zoo, and she would let me hold one of the scarlet macaws on a stick, they were stick trained so someone could not just stroll up, proffer an arm and walk off with one. 

African Grey Parrot

And I lusted after an African Grey parrot, but I was too broke, and they live so long…sigh, I read a story about a man who owned an Amazon. For thirty years the bird lived in a cage in the man’s den. Then the man died. When the house was sold and everything was being moved out, the movers picked up the bird cage and the Amazon began shouting “Help me, help me.”

 The last I read, African Greys are rated with an IQ similar to that of a five-year-old human, and the emotional level of a two-year-old.

 So, birds, I love them, and after living with one for so long I now look at them differently. And I enjoyed the hell out of watching the crows. Construction delays can be fun.

 Oh! And I almost forgot. Like it says at the beginning, they used to be dinosaurs. Effing DINOSAURS! Is that cool, or is it coolest? I actually had a dinosaur for a roommate. Glorioski.

 Hey, I also learned a new word. “Clade.” From Wikipedia: A clade is a group consisting of an organism and all its descendants. In the terms of biological systematics, a clade is a single “branch” on the “tree of life“. The idea that such a “natural group” of organisms should be grouped together and given a taxonomic name is central to biological classification. In cladistics (which takes its name from the term), clades are the only acceptable units.

David Quammen collected some of his science essays in a book entitled Natural Acts. A new edition is now available. Included is his essay “Has Success Spoiled the Crow,” on why crows get into so much trouble.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0393333604/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_1?pf_rd_p=486539851&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=0380717387&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=0R9H43EPRJJ7Q63Q8K1J





Of Egyptians, Candide, and Sappho

12 04 2010

“He who has once drunk of Nile water will forever yearn to be by the Nile again; his thirst cannot be quenched by the waters of any other land.” Sinuhe The Egyptian by Mika Waltari, translated by Lynda S. Robinson.

Finnish dust jacket

There has been much talk around me, as of late, ranging from fellow workers to my sister-in-law, about the fine book, The Egyptian by Finland native Mika Waltari. This is a book dear to my heart. I even liked the kind of god-awful movie starring Victor Mature and Jean Simmons. It was a poor-man’s Ten Commandments. The film changed the intent of the book but as a kid I adored it. Now it’s “Meh.”

Anyway, all this foofarah has re-whetted my appetite for a good Egyptian tale and so I downloaded the audio version to my iPod, and listen whilst I travel. Charlton Griffin reads it with a fine English accent and he does adults, children, and women, all really well. Ha, laborers and other low classes including the young Horemheb when he first meets Sinuhe, all of these folks have cockney accents.

Mika Waltari

The thing I notice most is the very fine writing. But I do not recall the quote at the top as having been written in quite the same way, although I read the only English translation in existence until 2002, and that was done by Naomi Walford and it was an abridgement.

Using Amazon as a source I compared the prose of the new translation to the audio book and I believe they are one and the same. Audible.com does not give translator attribution.

Charlton Griffin

Now to the heart of the matter. As I was toodling along beside Lake Sammamish this cloudy Seattle morning I found myself enrapt by the prose being spoken. This was swell writing. I was quite young when I read the Walford translation and I have given away every copy I have ever owned including a first edition hard cover, so the Walford text eludes me. By-the-way, the Walford version of The Egyptian was the number one best selling novel of 1949, and the number one selling novel translation of all time until it was surpassed by Umberto Eco with The Name of the Rose…sometime in the 1980’s, I think. I was working for Warner Books at the time and sold the book into the wholesale market.

The Name of the Rose

Now, where was I? Oh yes, cruising along beside a long and beautiful glacial lake and listening to Mr. Charlton Griffin read the words of, presumably, Ms Lynda S. Robinson, a resident of Texas, possessing a doctorate in Anthropology and author of a number of Egyptian whodunits. So listening to this very fine prose as you may find an example of at the top of this blog, I said to myself, “Self, is this fine prose the result of the translator’s excellent translating skill, the result of a very fine novel so well written that it almost translates itself, or half-way between and both?” Self answered, “Both, I do very much suspect.”

So I turned off the lovely voice of Mr. Charlton Griffin and began to cogitate. What other books do I admire, having only read the translation? First up was Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. I adore this book and have read it many times. And I only read the Bantam edition so I am reading the translation by Hilda Rosner. I like this one so well I am kind of afraid to read any other. I am beginning to think that the translator plays a huge role in my reading enjoyment.

Look at it this way: Take your favorite English language novel, I have so many, I will just choose one, and so let us choose The Death Ship by B. Traven. Ha, funny that my old brain should pick that one seeing as how Mr. B. Traven, also known as Ret Marut, Traven Torsvan, and Hal Croves, to name a few, wrote in German whilst living in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century.

But I digress. So suppose someone decided, just for the heck of it, to rewrite The Death Ship? It would still be in English and still tell the same story but it would be using someone else’s words. That makes it a different book, neh?

Siddhartha

So I guess I really like Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and Hilda Rosner. And I fell in love with The Egyptian by Mika Waltari and Naomi Walford, but now, being fickle as only a human can be, I have transferred my affection to The Egyptian by Mika Waltari and Lynda S. Robinson.

Other translations? Ah, I dearly love Candide and I first read the lovely translated words of Voltaire in a Norton Anthology in college. I have no idea who the translator was, but it was love at first read and I am still head over heels mad for the English version of Monsieur Françoise-Marie Arouet de Voltaire’s opus. And now I dearly love the hard cover volume issued by Modern Library to mark their 75th anniversary, Candide being the first book Modern Library published. It is illustrated by Rockwell Kent and translated by Peter Constantine. So here is a book that has provided two lovers. For, both translations I do love, indeed.

Candide is expelled from the castle

And now to a translation that might be unique, and which is certainly more famous than the work it purportedly translates. Edward J. Fitzgerald offered his “translation” of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam. It became almost instantly beloved, read, and quoted. But scholars often say “pish tosh” to this translation. Perhaps the flowery imagination of Mister Fitzgerald saw words that Omar the Tentmaker never wrote. I have read several translations and there is a difference and I always prefer Fitzgerald.

Literal:

Signs of destiny have always been
Those hands inscribed both good and mean
What was written, came from the unseen
Though we tried without and worried within.

Meaning:

One is great
Who faces fate
Before it’s late,
Appreciate
The destined state
No matter how much we debate
Oppose, engage, or calculate
Even try to accelerate
Fate only moves at its own rate.
Futile is worry, anger and hate
Joy is the only worthy mate.

 Fitzgerald:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
[Thanks to Shahriar Shahriari]

Over the span of my life, I vaguely recall two or three major translations of Homer and always each would be declared definitive. I am not a huge fan of reading Homer, or at least I have yet to try an edition which does not also try my patience. If only I could read the original Greek. Alas.

Sappho at Leucate

My final thought on translations, at least for the nonce, regards Sappho. I took a Greek history course in college and the text book contained translations of two poems by the lady from Lesbos. The book is long gone, probably sold for beer money at the end of the semester, and I know not the translator. But, romantic that I am, I memorized both poems. I have seen different translations of each over the years, but nothing so satisfying as the ones in my history text. My memory of one poem is:

“It seems all heaven here, to sit beside you, listening lover-wise to your sweet voice, and sweeter yet, your laughter’s witcheries. But oh why beats my heart so wild, one look at you and swift as thought, I am as tongue-tied as a child. Words die in my throat.”

And I guess I will have to get hard copies of both translations of the Egyptian and compare them. Oh, and speaking of translations, if anyone ever finds a copy of Waltari’s “A Nail Merchant at Nightfall” let me know.

“With the approach of age the soul flies like a bird back to the days of childhood. Now those days shine bright and clear in my memory until it seems as if everything then must have been better, lovelier than in the world today.” The Egyptian by Mika Waltari and Lynda S. Robinson and Charlton Griffin. [Gee, the professional reader makes such a difference, I might not have noticed Robinson’s stellar prose were it not for the splendid delivery of Mr. Griffin.]





A Wandering Salesman I

20 03 2010

Snowy Baltimore

I tend to associate the “spring” in “Spring” with the word capricious. Winter is leaving but it doesn’t go away all at once.  Forward and back and back and forward, the sun shines more and the temperature rises then falls back again. Slowly, inexorably, we are now moving toward sunny skies and warmer weather. But like the random leaps of a goat, the capricious bit you see, it doesn’t get from point A to point B in a straight line.

Sunny Baltimore

I was in Baltimore this week. It was quite cool in the morning but Mr. Sun was shining and the temperature approached 70 during the day. How-some-ever, recall that not too long ago, that part of the Northeast was experiencing record snowfall. One storm alone deposited 26 inches on Philadelphia. So as I drove to call on one of my favorite distributors, I noticed the piles of dirty snow sitting in shady sections alongside the road, in residential yards, and in commercial parking lots.

Yes, spring was here, but ol’ pappy winter had not let go complete, yet. But this means yours truly is back on the road with Willie Nelson playing inside myownself’s pea-like and aged brain. On the road. I love traveling. Over 35 years plus of commercial travel I have stumbled through the weeds to view a fresh water spring beneath an old bridge in Waco, Texas. I visited Stovall’s Hot Mineral Baths before fire destroyed it.

The Ghost of Stovall's

One small yet splendid pleasure was an 80 mile side trip to Turkey, Texas, the birthplace of Bob Wills. The country road wound around and up and down on the edge of the Llano Estacado. Coming around a curve in the low but hard-as-my-own-head bedrock, there below and in front of me was the confluence of two rivers. They roared and foamed and must be why all else was stone, but in the V formed by them was a little farmhouse, and I was jealous of the people who got to live there.

Llano Estacado

Then up to the true caprock itself. It was flat and the purple sage waved in a strong wind that must have  been coming straight down from Canada. We got out of the car and looked north across the Great Plains to the horizon and it was so flat with that cold wind blowing in my face and the sage a-dancing around, it seemed one could see into forever. Great Mother of Pearl but what an experience.

The Ginkgos of Tokyo

And I went to Japan. The air smelled…different, alien—but alien in a good way—just not as expected. I always wondered if that scent in the air in early summer in Tokyo was from all the ginkgo trees. And the crows they were gigantic and spoke a different dialect from Texas crows. And the katydids had become “mimi’s” because that is what they said, “Mimi, mimi.” Woo hoo, it was just swell. And so was the country. My friend Masaaki and I hit a fabled little soba joint and sat there for hours slurping down first class soba, sashimi, whatever other tidbits the chef and owner deigned to offer us, and sucking up the best sake I ever had before or since.

The author boards a Tokyo train - "Dosdesukaden"

A young Japanese fellow came over and introduced himself and complimented me on my Japanese-like ability to inhale soba noodles, and could he practice his English? Masaaki and I finally hit the subway headed for Ueno station, but we were so drunk we missed our stop twice and kept having to get on the subway going the opposite way. A little Japanese schoolgirl, going home from a late night after-school class of some sort was the only other passenger in that car with us, and she slept when she could. And the train did indeed sing “dodesukaden, dodesukaden, dodesukaden,” as it clattered along the tracks, and I was in my own little Shinto heaven thank you very much Mr. Kurosawa.

In the Ginza

I will only mention my two weeks in China briefly for that trip requires its own  blog, and I’m not sure if attending the first World Tai Chi Festival on Heinan Island as a member of the U.S. Tai Chi team counts as business travel.

A Ramen Shop in the Ginza

Oh, and in Tokyo I ate a peach, well two peaches, actually, and after having one of those, nothing else for the rest of my life will count as a peach. And eating ramen at a joint in the Ginza where the ramen was flavored with miso and the customers ate with both hands, chopsticks in one hand and porcelain soup spoon in the other. But where was Tampopo?

In "Tampopo" the Master instructs his student

And the beautiful Geisha standing in the unisex restroom proffering a terry cloth towel after I washed my hands. This was whilst we were at Rocky Top in the Ginza where Masaaki and his bluegrass band were playing.

And now I am returning from Baltimore after presenting upcoming book titles to our distributor’s sales force, a bunch of mostly-young, really smart folks who love books and can talk about your product or the industry itself. And they have become friends and the smiles of reunion are genuine on both sides.

Then there is the travel within the travel. When I have to rent a car I am very fearful, having no sense of direction. I always get lost, the only question is when and how bad.

Let us not forget hotels. They are mostly good these days. In my youth, traveling publisher’s reps clued each other in on which place to stay in Amarillo or Lubbock. Who had hot water or even who had any water pressure at all. Today there are numerous fine places to stay at reasonable rates. Many have refrigerators, microwaves, and even small stovetops. At some future date I will write about the fine hotels in which I have had the pleasure to stay. And I won’t forget my friend Maria at the Holiday Inn in San Antonio.

Narita Airport, Tokyo

Finally there are the airports and the airplanes. Certain airports are like old friends and others old enemies. The old friends are best and I will mention DFW in particular. Going east from Seattle, many roads lead through DFW. I usually fly American Airlines and so wind up in the same terminals, A and C. My favorite is Childs Barbecue but Dickey’s Barbecue is very good too. This trip I discovered a new place, Tequilaria, owned by Jose Cuervo. They serve…tequila. But I also had their soft tacos which were fabulous. And DFW has wine bars, and a new fast food place that serves bison burgers. Oh, and very important, recharge towers have popped up all over the airport like chromium trees. The netbook and the smart phone must be fed, too.

And the planes: I used to have a running battle with the planes, what with small seats, scant legroom, bawling children…oy. But I have found that if I sit at the back and get a seat on the right side aisle, all is well. I like 31D on S80s. Today I am in 35D on a really swell 757, so much leg room, and it is somewhat empty, so the other two seats on my side are vacant, well, I could almost live here. Except for the squalling infant several rows up. Ai-ya, now there are screeching children behind me, too. But, that’s why God created iPods.

Home

So winter is done and my clock has sprung forward whether I like it or not, and I am returning home. Another good thing about travel, you get to come home. In the Egyptian by Mika Waltari, our hero, Sinuhe, has just returned to Egypt with his buddy Horemheb from a visit to the Hittites. Sinuhe exclaims, “Nothing tastes so sweet as the waters of the Nile.” “There’s no place like home.” Right Dorothy? But next week, I am “…On the road again, gee but it’s great to be on the road again…”





The New Year and the Return 歸根

2 01 2010

Nai Endure

Coming off of a tough year, physically, my goal for 2010 is to “Endure.” I shall take a cue from Lao Zi, who wrote:

“The return to the root
is peace.
Peace: to accept what must be,
to know what endures.
In that knowledge is wisdom.
Without it, ruin, disorder.”

Each New Year my thoughts come round once more to the Daodejing and my favorite poem as translated by a great lady.

Returning to the Root
Chapter 16 of the Tao De Ching (Daodejing)

Be completely empty.
Be perfectly serene.
The ten thousand things arise together;
in their arising is their return.
Now they flower,
and flowering
sink homeward,
returning to the root.

The return to the root
is peace.
Peace: to accept what must be,
to know what endures.
In that knowledge is wisdom.
Without it, ruin, disorder.

To know what endures
is to be openhearted,
magnanimous,
regal,
blessed,
following the Tao,
the way that endures forever.
The body comes to its ending,
But there is nothing to fear.
 

© 1997 Ursula K. Le Guin

道德經
第十六章

歸根

致虛極,守靜篤,萬物並作,吾以觀復

夫物芸芸,各復歸其根。歸根曰
靜,靜曰復命。復命曰常,知常曰明。不知常,妄作凶。知常容,容乃公

公乃王,王乃天,天乃道,道乃久,沒身不殆。

© 362 BCE Lao Zi