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Maggie Chok

The Melon Seller

Scenes in and around Kyoto
BBC Moving Pictures
Listen in pop-out player / Zoom in and examine the artwork as you listen

A three-part series for BBC Radio 4 offering listeners the chance to take a long, slow look at great artworks, photographed at high-resolution.

What would it be like to walk the streets of 17th century Kyoto? In this week’s episode, Cathy FitzGerald explores a sumptuous pair of Japanese screens that depict the historic city in incredible detail.

Temples, shrines, castles, shops and homes – the image is crammed with tiny scenes. A man in a barber’s shop examines his new hair cut in a mirror. People peer down into the street to watch a parade pass. Weary pilgrims sit on a verandah, sharing fruit. Men and women of every age and every social class appear, more than 1,800 in all.

Cathy FitzGerald hears how these glittering screens – a genre known as ‘rakuchû rakugai-zu’ or ‘scenes in and around Kyoto’ – were made and what they tell us about everyday life in the 17th century Japanese city.

(Source: BBC Radio 4—The Documentary)

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Nothing lasts much longer than a season

Sports has the shortest view. Nothing lasts much longer than a season, and the basic unit of time is the moment. Sports fans and players appreciate each instant; a relic from sports is a “great moment.” The only sports people who indulge in long-range thinking are statisticians and record freaks; they try to make each moment in sports bigger by comparing it with every other moment in as many ways as possible. Thus we hear about “The Most Rebounds in One Quarter of a Championship Series Game in the NBA-19, by Bill Russell, Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers, April 9, 1962,” or about the “Most Consecutive Strike-Outs by a Left-Handed Batter in World Series Play.” Such records give a little immortality to nearly every contest, where time is diced up into thousands of tiny pieces, so that almost every moment can have a record attached to it. But whenever a record is broken you can expect it to be followed by the next broken record. Records march on, pretty much like time itself.

Sports not only claims smaller bits of time, it also claims smaller bits of truth. Artists or professors of literature say quite seriously that “Art is truth.” They don’t mean a fleeting bit of the truth: they mean ‘The’ truth. Religious leaders say the same thing, and so do politicians (“We hold these truths to be self-evident … “). Sports has a humble approach; the only truth it claims is the score, which changes all the time. The “final” score lasts only until the next game. Such humility has a liberating effect. Because sports doesn’t assert any overarching truth, people can say just about anything they want. Sports is the land of exaggeration, and the bigger the yarn the better people like it. You can have “The Game of the Century” every week or so, and you can say, “There is no tomorrow” in the heat of the finals, and all that happens is that spectators become a little more nervous about the outcome. Think of the reaction if the Pope or the President of the United States announced that there was no tomorrow.

(Source: Bill Russell & Taylor Branch—Second Wind)

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The Musicians Seamounts

A seamount is an underwater mountain formed by volcanic activity. The biological richness of seamount habitats results from the shape of these undersea formations. Thanks to the steep slopes of seamounts, nutrients are carried upwards from the depths of the oceans toward the sunlit surface, providing food for creatures ranging from corals to fish to crustaceans.

The Musicians seamounts comprise a major volcanic province that extends northwesterly from just north of the Hawaiian ridge. Seventeen prominent seamounts lie along a 1,200-km northwest-trending line which marks the western limit of the Musicians province and coincides with a line along which the large east-west fracture zones in the northeast Pacific.

The oldest part of the Musicians Ridge formed approximately 90 million years ago but recently found samples are only about 50 million years old, featuring a different geochemistry. Vulnerable spots in the Earth’s plates crack when they are stressed, in this case due to movement of the Pacific Plate which started to dive or submerge back into the Earth’s crust at its northern and western edges around 50 million years ago.

New estimates suggest that, taken together, seamounts encompass about 28.8 million square kilometers of the Earth’s surface. That’s larger than deserts, tundra, or any other single land-based global habitat on the planet.

(Source: Seamount Biogeosciences Network—Seamount Catalog, NOAA—National Ocean Service, ‘Musicians seamount province and related crustal structures north of the Hawaiian ridge’—Marine Geology Volume 10, Issue 2, February 1971, Pages 89-111)

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Sacred Drift

We suspect that even though travel in the modern world seems to have been taken over by the Commodity, even though the networks of convivial reciprocity seem to have vanished from the map, even though tourism seems to have triumphed. Even so, we continue to suspect that other pathways still persist, other tracks, unofficial, not noted on the map, perhaps even “secret” pathways still linked to the possibility of an economy of the Gift, smugglers’ routes for free spirits, known only to the geomantic guerrillas of the art of travel.

Perhaps the greatest and subtlest practitioners of the art of travel were the Sufis, the mystics of Islam. Before the age of passports, immunizations, airlines and other impediments to free travel, the Sufis wandered footloose in a world where borders tended to be more permeable than nowadays, thanks to the trans nationalism of Islam and the cultural unity of Dar al-Islam , the Islamic world.

[…]

The Prophet said, “Seek knowledge, even as far as China.” From the beginning, Islam lifts travel above all “mundane” utilitarianism and gives it an epistemological or even Gnostic dimension. “The jewel that never leaves the mine is never polished,” says the Sufi poet Saadi. To “educate” is to “lead outside,” to give the pupil a perspective beyond parochiality and mere subjectivity.

Some Sufis may have done all their traveling in the Imaginal World of archetypal dreams and visions, but vast numbers of them took the Prophet’s exhortations quite literally. Even today dervishes wander over the entire Islamic world but as late as the 19th century they wandered in veritable hordes, hundreds or even thousands at a time, and covered vast distances. All in search of knowledge.

[…]

As Sufism crystallized from the loose spontaneity of early days to an institution with rules and grades, “travel for knowledge” was also regularized and organized. Elaborate handbooks of duties for dervishes were produced which included methods for turning travel into a very specific form of meditation. The whole Sufi “path” itself was symbolized in terms of intentional travel.

In some cases itineraries were fixed (e.g. the Hajj); others involved waiting for “signs” to appear, coincidences, intuitions, “adventurers” such as those which inspired the travels of the Arthurian knights. Some orders limited the time spent in any one place to 40 days; others made a rule of never sleeping twice in the same place. The strict orders, such as the Naqshbandis, turned travel into a kind of full-time choreography, in which every movement was preordained and designed to enhance consciousness.

(Source: Peter Lamborn Wilson—’Sacred drift: the art of Sufi travel’, ‘The Caravan of Summer’ essay)

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Meaning in waves

(Source: Chris Delorenzo—’Immersed’ Series)

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“The Dots”, “Some Bees”, and “Freckles”

(Source: Dan Piraro)

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Water Moccasin

Agkistrodon piscivorus is a venomous snake, a species of pit viper, found in the southeastern United States. Adults are large and capable of delivering a painful and potentially fatal bite. When antagonized, they will stand their ground by coiling their bodies and displaying their fangs. This is the world’s only semiaquatic viper, usually found in or near water, particularly in slow-moving and shallow lakes, streams, and marshes. The snake is a strong swimmer and will even enter the sea.

The generic name is derived from the Greek words ancistro (hooked) and odon (tooth), and the specific name comes from the Latin piscis (fish) and voro (to eat); thus, the scientific name translates into “hooked-tooth fish-eater”. Common names include variants on water moccasin, swamp moccasin, black moccasin, cottonmouth, gapper, or simply viper. Many of the common names refer to the threat display, where this species will often stand its ground and gape at an intruder, exposing the white lining of its mouth. Its diet consists mainly of fish and frogs but is otherwise highly varied and, uniquely, has even been reported to include carrion.

This is the most aquatic species of the genus Agkistrodon, and is usually associated with bodies of water, such as creeks, streams, marshes, swamps and the shores of ponds and lakes. The U.S. Navy (1991) describes it as inhabiting swamps, shallow lakes and sluggish streams, but it is usually not found in swift, deep, cool water. Behler and King (1979) list its habitats as including lowland swamps, lakes, rivers, bayheads, sloughs, irrigation ditches, canals, rice fields and small clear rocky mountain streams.

(Source: Wikipedia—Agkistrodon piscivorus)

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This small bee is holding up a large mirror.

(Source: TED Talk—Marla Spivak on ‘Why bees are disappearing’)

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Nearby is the country they call life.

‘Go to the Limits of Your Longing’—Rainer Maria Rilke

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Book of Hours, I 59

(Source: Book of Hours by Rainer Maria Rilke, Image by Elizabeth Knowles)

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“Sun is possible”

The traditional Inuit calendar had moon-months, named for events in the land’s cycles. In his book, The Arctic Sky, John MacDonald details the Igloolik calendar which begins the year with “Sun is possible” (mid-January) and moves through the rest of the thirteen moon-months: “Sun gets higher”; “Premature birth of seal pups”; “Birth of seal pups”; “Birth of bearded seal pups”; “Caribou calves”; “Eggs”; “Caribou sheds hair”; “Caribou hair thickens”; “Velvet peels from caribou antlers”—more poetic than October, right?—then “Makings of winter”; “The hearing month” and “The great darkness.” (By “The hearing month,” at about the end of November, the seas are frozen and all ice strong enough for people to travel by dog-team to scattered camps, where people would visit and hear news of their neighbors.) Through this transparent calendar, one can “see” the landscape. The white (Western) calendar, though, hangs like thick blank white paper, preventing you from seeing the land.

(Source: Wild—Jay Griffiths, Image—Amanda Hathaway)

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