Wu Bin: Pine Lodge amid Tall Mountains

Wu Bin: Pine Lodge amid Tall Mountains (c. 1590-91). Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

As I continue to read Thomas Christensen’s 1616: The World in Motion, I will occasionally post a painting featured in the book. Abu al-Hasan’s Squirrels in a Plane Tree was another such work. Of the painting by Wu Bin, Christensen writes (p. 182-184), “Wu’s contorted mountainscapes are like the spires of Western gothic cathedrals, stretching skyward out of spiritual yearning. Perhaps because of the sheer power of supernatural presence contained in them, the landscapes can appear dangerous or threatening. Yet boats sail serenely under the towering peaks, and mountain residents go about their business without apparent concern for their perilous situation.”

Barzun on Baseball

“Baseball takes its mystic nine and scatters them wide. A kind of individualism thereby returns, but it is limited – eternal vigilance is the price of victory. Just because they’re far apart, the outfield can’t dream or play she-loves-me-not with daisies. The infield is like a steel net held in the hands of the catcher. He is the psychologist and historian for the staff – or else his signals will give the opposition hits. The value of his headpiece is shown by the ironmongery worn to protect it. The pitcher, on the other hand, is the wayward man of genius, whom others will direct. They will expect nothing from him but virtuosity. He is surrounded no doubt by mere talent, unless one excepts that transplanted acrobat, the shortstop. What a brilliant invention is his role despite its exposure to ludicrous lapses! One man to each base, and then the free lance, the trouble shooter, the movable feast for the eyes, whose motion animates the whole foreground.

“The rules keep pace with this imaginative creation so rich in allusions to real life. How excellent, for instance, that a foul tip muffed by the catcher gives the batter another chance. It is the recognition of Chance that knows no argument. But on the other hand, how wise and just that the third strike must not be dropped. This points to the fact that near the end of any struggle life asks for more than is needful in order to clinch success. A victory has to be won, not snatched. We find also our American innocence in calling ‘World Series’ the annual games between the winners in each big league. The world doesn’t know or care and couldn’t compete if it wanted to, but since it’s us children having fun, why, the world is our stage. I said baseball was Greek. Is there not a poetic symbol in the new meaning – our meaning – of ‘Ruth hits Homer’?”

From God’s Country and Mine (1954) by Jacques Barzun, who died today at the age of 104. Here’s his obituary from The New York Times.

Sunday Salon 10-7-12

Happy Sunday, everyone!

My blog celebrated a few minor milestones this week. This Salon marks the eighth straight day I’ve posted to the blog; my previous record was just three straight. This also happens to be my 100th blog post overall. And on Friday my site had its 10,000th view. While I know that many sites see that many people in an hour or two, and it took me a mere two years and five months to get there, I’m still pleased and grateful that a few folks have found my subject matter and writing worth checking out.

The major post for this week was a look at Norwegian stave churches. These medieval wooden churches captured my imagination for some reason when I first encountered them a few weeks ago. Even if you don’t really want to read what I said about them, the pictures are very nice.

I’ve made a couple of references recently to the Asian Art Museum’s exhibition Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy, which opened just a couple of days ago and continues until January 13 of next year. The Museum has posted a few videos on the exhibition, a particularly cool one of which demonstrates five major scripts.

Finally, although I generally prefer not to write about politics, I do want to take a minute to throw my weight behind Hank, a candidate for U.S. Senate in Virginia. Find out more at Facebook and Twitter, or check out his website. Pick up some Hank swag – all proceeds go to animal rescue and other animal-related causes.

In times like these, we need a cat like this.

Murakami and Cheap Liquor

In this International Herald Tribune article, we’re reminded that the great Haruki Murakami is currently a leading contender for the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature, which will be announced in the next few weeks. Murakami has also addressed the recent protests, some violent, related to the longstanding dispute between China and Japan over the ownership of the Senkaku Islands (some background can be found here and here). His money quote regarding nationalism:

“It is like cheap liquor: Cheap liquor gets you drunk after only a few shots and makes you hysterical. It makes you speak loudly and act rudely … But after your drunken rampage you are left with nothing but an awful headache the next morning. We must be careful about politicians and polemicists who lavish us with this cheap liquor and fan this kind of rampage.”

Stave Churches

While watching a television documentary about Norway recently, I got my first glimpse of a stave church, having never seen one or even encountered the name before. I found the structures, their decorations, and their history to be quite fascinating. Some further research was clearly called for.

A stave church is a medieval wooden church, named after its load-bearing corner posts (stafr in Old Norse, stav in Norwegian). Upwards of 2,000 stave churches once existed in Norway, and similar churches were quite common hundreds of years ago elsewhere in northern Europe, especially in Sweden and Denmark (the Transylvanian wooden churches of Maramureş also share some design elements). While this style of church quickly became obsolete elsewhere in Europe, they continued to be built in Norway. Many have been destroyed over the centuries, but around 28 remain intact, all but one in Norway (the other is in Sweden, although another Norwegian one was moved to Poland during the nineteenth century). They are the only surviving medieval wooden churches in northern Europe. Some modern copies have been built as well, in places ranging from Iceland to the United States. Read more

Hokkaido Bears

“There are dozens of bears in the hills around the lake. They come down almost daily to the road over there.”

He pointed at the road I had just walked along, and I said “Oh really?” with a great deal of nonchalance.

“You want to whistle or sing when you walk,” he said, “or have a bell and ring it from time to time, or bang a stick. They won’t come near you unless they’re really hungry, and then it’s only your food they’ll want.”

I nodded pleasantly, having no food.

“If you turn a corner and you see a bear and it’s thirty meters away from you, you’ve no need to worry. The bear will run away. It’ll be far more frightened than you are.”

“Well, well!” I said, and sipped my tea.

“If you turn a corner and you see a bear, say, twenty meters away, there’s still a good chance it won’t bother you. It’ll roar a bit just to let you know it’s there, but if you stand quite still it’ll probably get bored and go back into the forest.”

“Mm,” I said, giving the forest a very uncursory glance.

“And then, of course, if you turn a corner and you see a bear and it’s five or ten meters away from you…”

“Then, presumably, I should start to worry,” I said, chuckling my most British chuckle.

“Not really,” he said. “You’ve no need to worry. Bears are the most predictable of animals. If it’s five meters away it’ll certainly kill you. There’s no point in worrying at all.”

— From Chapter 2 of The Roads to Sata: A 2000-Mile Walk Through Japan by Alan Booth