Monday, December 31, 2007

This Sainted Year

It's the last day of this sainted year so I thought I might just write something to say goodbye. There are a lot of things I may just prepare to say goodbye to, but there is another time for that, don't worry.

I've left behind quite some mess for the preceding twenty-four months, altogether quite a lot of fortnights. I meant mess as in very assorted, not full of rubbish, as is a very male way of looking at the word. I guess near anyone I know hereabouts in college would agree to that first point.

And it's been quite some change as well.
It's weird but maybe I should just set down these changes for the record; I haven't been writing on things pertaining to myself and those around me much anymore.

New Friends
is a fact of life for us young ones. And so is separation; this specific one ongoing especially abrupt. In our soldiering days one will meet the peeps he will be hanging out with for the next two years, and there's not much choice to who you get. Would be wise to leave it up to yuanfen, and accept your comrades as they come. Meanwhile the girls will be spread all over the world in premier colleges because they're so smart.

I got cards from Yee Chien and Siewch for Christmas, and I was more than a little touched when I read them. Attached to Yee Chien's card, one safety razor and one safety razor holder. Hope they'll come in useful. Dah, just like I hope that my gifts of hand soap will come in useful as well.

I hear now more of it and has grown proud of it.
You can now find my home village on Google Earth, in high resolution, here in 25.6 N 119.4E. It's called Wenfang and is the centre of a large parish. Our church is the one way off main road and with a domey tower to the west, and the house we lived in every December is not far away east.
I drew a picture of the village from the rooftop two years ago. Maybe I'll put it up soon.

[Jan 26 2008: Here it is
Wenfang from Rooftop
Wenfang Church and Surroundings
December 2005
29 x 42 cm / Pencil on paper]

My family has resumed church attendance last July, which is some achievement. And life in church did become more interesting to us, now that we become more than passive overlookers of the consecration of the bread and wine and other rituals suchlike, say I! Do have some more cake.

I was never much of a sporty guy before '06, but all thanks to the peeps in S6E, who opened the doors for me to the simple joy of getting hit in the face by basketballs and running into people randomly, and ultimately giving back to me a long-lost childhood. Thanks to you again, you know who you are!

Here's one to Mak who brought me to be a steward and a head of the club, and from whom I asked more help than I should.
Here's one to the people who have to put up with my less than adept leadership, especially Weiqi, Lin Xi, Ming Wei and Yam Huo. Despite my faltering manners and dismal ideas about job allocation, you supported me to the end. Will remember you guys for your being positive, and well wishes to you juniors as well. Do keep alive!

Ways of Thought
Some change there.
Where I used to be spirited with my opinions, now I seem more settled; more or less cynical I cannot tell.
A lot of reevaluation happened with the way I treat other people's ideas, and with it prejudices based upon provenance, popularity and othersuch. Maybe I've become more calmly and neutrally stanced when presenting my own; more or less rationally I cannot say.
I've ceased to believe in doing things like art or daydreaming (read: contemplating) for their own sake, at least partly arising from the unpleasant images it brings into my head. British comedy has had a lot to do with it, what with them portraying career poets as raving psychotics wherever I look.

Oh goodness they've completed the countdown and it's 2008 now.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Soul clad in air

This picture is probably taken by Hulda Magnúsdóttir
When one is describing Christianity at Glacier one must never forget the glacier, at least not for long. Perhaps some of the undersigned's continuous reflections on this subject, as follows, are not entirely out of place even though they do not perhaps pertain to this particular day; but all other days have been this day at one time or another, just like those that are still to come.

This glacier is never like an ordinary mountain. As was said before, it is only a bulge and doesn't reach very high into the sky. It's as if this mountain has no point of view. It asserts nothing. It doesn't try to force anything upon anyone. It never importunes you. Skilled mountaineers come straight here to climb the mountain because it is one of the most famous mountains in the world, and when they see it they ask: Is that all there is to it? And they can't be bothered going up.

In the mountain range that continues to the east of the glacier there are innumerable mountains as varied as people in a photograph; these mountains are not all-or-nothing like the glacier, but are endowed with details. Some are said to swell up and start booming when the wind is from the north. Some skilled mountaineers say that the glacier isn't interesting but that Helgrindur is interesting and the people should rather climb Helgrindur, which means the Gate of Hell.

It is often said of people with second sight that their soul leaves the body. That doesn't happen to the glacier. But the next time one looks at it, the body has left the glacier, and nothing remains except the soul clad in air. As the undersigned mentioned earlier in the report, the glacier is illuminated at certain times of the day by a special radiance and stands in a golden glow with a powerful aureole of rays, and everything becomes insignificant except it. Then it's as if the mountain is no longer taking part in the history of geology but has become ionic. Wasn't the fairy ram that Hnallþóra saw actually the glacier? A remarkable mountain. At night when the sun is off the mountains the glacier becomes a tranquil silhouette that rests in itself and breathes upon man and beast the word never, which perhaps means always. Come, waft of death.

Halldór Laxness / Chapter 28 of Under the Glacier (Kristnihald undir jökli) / The Glacier

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Feliz Navidad

Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad,
Feliz navidad, prospero año y felicidad!

Boy, this song has come stuck in my mind for two days now.
A blessed Christmas season to all!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Lapsed Bohemians

"You know how they wrote in that century... People with no soul."
- The Island of the Day Before, last lines

A soul is always needed in artist in the things he does. A good one, let us assume by taking at once the aesthetic doctrine of Tolstoy. If an artist does not feel for his own art, how then may he expect others to feel for his? Go on and dispute that first statement, if you feel like it. If you do, you're not the first, and a richly populated canon has sprung from the denial from that first statement. In Tolstoy's opinion its roots dug as far into the past as the Renaissance, but in any case the Anti-art tradition , as aforementioned, is its most outward manifestation.

The bohemianism of the post-Renaissance era of Europe, then, may not be so removed from the modern art which so often despises it. The last lines which summed up Roberto della Griva's account of his shipwreck was an uncomfortable ending to the book, but it mirrors a state of mind which existed then as well as now. It strikes at the root of the pretentiousness of art and artists.

The callwords of poetry, of contemplation, romance and othersuch, being worthy each on their own, are needless repeated and advertised. This so happens when the incentive that these qualities bring are attractive. It pays for an artist to heighten his profile through such an image; an artist is always seen a head taller than the rest in terms of abilities of cognition. And of course, a knack in language and in expression, spoken or written, benign or expletive, is an indespensable element in courtship of any form.

Was it the case in the European upper-classes? I may venture a guess so and be more than a little convinced myself. Roberto, a Piedmontese aristocrat, certainly had a propensity to set his eyes on more than one woman (lot like me, really). He also wrote love letters, which were dictated to him by Saint-Savin; this other guy had in his hands a winning formula for the love letter. His revelry in metaphysics with Father Caspar, and then himself, was in retrospect a little sycophantic in addition to the general interesting. Finally, his delirious dreams with Ferrante were a kitschy tales of good fighting evil: with a damsel in distress thrown in, even.

Why, a soul capable of such imagination, contemplation, desire, be deemed nought? But, we see through Saint-Savin's insight, you can pretend a soul if you don't have one, just repeat after me.

And, I imagine, somewhere into the twentieth century, they got tired of the pretense and flaunted soullessness (as ageless a disease as leprosy) as a novelty, a revolution, converging with the rest of the fashionable ideas to form the never-ending political hubbub of now.

Hence I conclude: That soullessness as a state of being has been preserved in art as a revered tradition, survived even (and especially) by the anti-art tradition that the Cabaret Voltaire artists claim to be trailblazers for; that richness and beauty of origins the most bereft of soul can be taken into an artistic canon. And art should not be so mystified such that even we, the artists ourselves, find it dodgy to relate to our brainchildren. This is art we are talking about after all, not theology.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


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The time is 0000, midnight. Upon my word, isn't that some kind of coffee smell wafting towards me out of the house! Inside, the table had been covered with a cloth and laid with a variety of cakes of many shapes and colours; I think I'm safe to say that there were hundreds of them, set out on nearly twenty plates. To cap it all, the woman brought in three war-cakes, so called because they became fashionable during the war, each about twenty centimetres thick. Finally the woman brought in coffee and switched on a light, a naked 15-watt bulb that hung by a flex from the ceiling.

Woman, apologetically: I'm going to light this thing anyway, even though we don't go in much for that sort of thing in this house. It was forced onto pastor Jón a year or two back when every farm was connected up in accordance with the new regulations, whether people wanted to have it or not.

The undersigned wasn't very sure at first what the "this" was that couldn't be mentioned by name. Gradually it dawned on me that the woman was talking about electricity.

Embi [the bishop's emissary]: It's quite unnecessary to switch on the electricity for my sake. A candle will do.
Woman: That's hardly good enough for bishops.

However, the upshot was that the woman switched off the light with the unmentionable name and lit a candle; this was actually far more festive than the naked 15-watt bulb. The woman poured the visitor a cup of coffee and invited him to help himself, then took up position by the door with a stern expression on her face. The coffee had a mouldy taste, and truth to tell I was paralysed by the sight of these innumerable cakes arrayed around such awful coffee. I felt that the woman was watching over me in the same spirit of duty as when one is making sure that animals are eating the fodder they've been given.

She is a woman of dignity, but taciturn; perhaps she yearns for eternal silence and feels uncomfortable in body and soul if anyone addresses her first; it's better to tread warily. Perhaps there was just a small railing around her, like a statue in a square. A cleanly woman. Not much over sixty. Thickset, rather clumsy.

Embi: Perhaps the pastor has gone to bed?
Woman: That I do not know.
Embi: Excuse me, but aren't you the pastor's wife?
Woman: I've not been so considered hitherto.
Embi: Never before have I sen so many cakes all at once. Did you make all these cakes?
Woman: Who else, indeed? That's why they call me Hnallþóra (Pestle-Thóra) hereabouts.
Embi: An unusual name.
Miss Hnallþóra: I suppose the folk here think I wield the pestle in the mortar rather vigorously.
Embi: A very entertaining notion, certainly.

Miss Hnallþóra: There's a lot of envy around here, you know. The madams with their mixing machines say things about my mortar. But what's cardamom until it's been under the pestle, say I! Do have some more cakes.
Embi: Excuse me, but is the pastor's wife not at home herself?
Miss Hnallþóra: I don't know. I rather think she isn't here. Did the bishop need to have a word with her?
Embi: No, not really. I was just asking.
Miss Hnallþóra: Quite so. One could try asking down at Neðratraðkot (Netherland Croft). It's thought to be haunted sometimes in springtime, or so they say.

Embi: But you're the housekeeper, are you not?
Miss Hnallþóra: I'm simply here. I go with the parsonage.
Embi: Were you already here when pastor Jón came here?
Miss Hnallþóra: Yes, I'm from up the mountain.
Embi: From up the mountain?

The lady heaved a sigh, closed her eyes, and inhaled a needless sort of "yes" all the way down into the lungs -- yessing on the in-breath, as it's called.

Embi: From up the mountain? Is that some particular family?
Miss Hnallþóra: I don't come from any particular family. That's for other folk.
Embi: Nothing particular in the way of news around here?
Miss Hnallþóra: There's nothing much happens around here. Nothing ever happens to anyone. No one has ever seen anything.
Embi: Nothing ever happened to you either? Never seen anything?
Miss Hnallþóra: Nothing to speak of.
Embi: Perhaps something you cannot speak of? Have you never owned a horse, for instance?
Miss Hnallþóra: No, praise be to God. Others have owned horses, I'm happy to say, but not me.

Embi: Who owns the calf?
Miss Hnallþóra: The calf! That thing on its last legs? I've no idea why I was given it. There's nothing here to feed to a calf except coffee once in a while, and old cakes I mash up in it. On the other hand I won't conceal the fact from anyone that once upon a time a little something happened to me. I saw a little something. But never except just that once.
Embi: This is turning out better than seemed likely.
Miss Hnallþóra: Of course, I wouldn't tell a soul about it.
Embi: That's not so good!
Miss Hnallþóra: I'll just go and make some more coffee.
Embi: Thanks, but there's really no need. I'm not accustomed to drinking more than a half a cup or so. And I'm sure that coffeepot holds at least a litre and a half.

But there was no stopping her going out again with the coffeepot to replenish it, even though the level couldn't have been lowered by much. While the lady was out, the bishop's emissary could scarcely take his eyes off the three war-cakes bulging with spices and measuring a total of sixty centimetres in diameter. I was sweating a little on the forehead.

In the hope that with a little patience some information might be got out of the lady, I accepted a third cup contrary to my custom. It worked. The visitor's coffee-swilling began to have a loosening effect on this fettered woman. Her reactions became more human, and she submitted to that softening of the soul and surrender to God and man that comes from telling a story. She returned to that one thing that had ever happened to her in her lifetime, that one and only time she had ever seen something. It was very nearly fifty years ago, but, she says, I remember it as if it had happened yesterday. May I not cut the bishop a wedge of layer cake?

Embi: There's really no need, but, well, yes, thank you.
Miss Hnallþóra: Would you not like a piece from each one? It wasn't the intention to have to throw it to the dogs.

The visitor besought her only to cut from the one, preferably the one with the sugar icing, because that one wasn't as moist as the others and wasn't oozing quite so much juice and tinned fruit. So she cut me a wedge that would have been a suitable portion for seven people, and laid it on my plate.

Miss Hnallþóra: I was just a chit of a girl at the time. I was sent on some errand out to Bervík. Instead of going the direct coastal way along the seashore, I followed the sheep-paths higher up, straight over the glacier moraines. There are lots of lovely dells up there, full of mosses and heathers. And then, as I am walking over one of the ridges, suddenly I see a brown ram with trained horns standing there on its own, with no other animal anywhere near, and looking up at me from the hollow. I've never been so frightened in all my born days, a speechless person, a helpless girl, because I knew that neither this nor any other straight-horned brown ram existed here at Glacier. A golden lustre shone from him. Never in all my born days have I seen such a fleece on any living animal. I felt I was turning to stone. For a long time I couldn't tear my eyes from this beautiful animal I knew didn't exist here in the valley not down by the shore not anywhere in Iceland. The ram just stood there and gazed at me. I feel as if I'm standing there this very day and the ram is gazing at me. What was I to do? In the end I had the sense to run out of sight. I made a wide detour down from the ridge and ran helter-skelter along the hollows all the way down to the sea until I reached the main road. Thanks be to God.

Embi: A fairy ram?
The woman inhaled her answer in a falsetto, no doubt still with palpitations to this very day: I don't know.
Embi: Did anyone ever get to the bottom of this?
Miss Hnallþóra: No, of course no one ever got to the bottom of it. Everyone knew as well as I did that there were no straight-horned brown rams in these parts. Some lads from the next farm went up to have a look, but naturally they saw nothing. And since then I myself have never seen anything one could call seeing. And nothing has ever happened to me.

Halldór Laxness / Chapter 5 of Under the Glacier (Kristnihald undir jökli) / The Story of Hnallþóra and the Fairy Ram

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Guard Mascot

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The Guard Mascot
(after the Pagėgiai Coat-of-arms)

Acrylic on canvas

Perhaps derivative, rather than original, works are in order this season, but one has to start living somewhere.

I did this in much the same spirit as I did the Stagfish painting, taking the theme from the arms design of a Lithuanian (or thereabouts) municipality, sprinkling the background with four-sided shapes and outlining everything with thick black lines, except that I did a bit more to alter the Stagfish arms to make the chimera look more alive.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Granite Banks

December 10: If I could nail my childhood down at any particular place at all, which hasn't been razed to the ground and rebuilt upon or anything, this must be it.

Dad took me down for bike rides the last time we lived near here. Most times we went once around, all 6.17 km of the gravel path. Sometimes we went twice. But today I didn't have a bicycle, and jogged instead. I looked at the sky when I reached the first jetty and it frowned back. There was going to be a shower today.

People would expect the gloomy disposition to herald death and doom; it was far from what I expected. The place was lively near everywhere.

I came here last week and found catfishes skulking around the granite boulders. Along with it was a swarm of other unidentifiable fish, and some terrapins. Today the floodgates at Sungei Pandan lit up and it was quite pretty, never mind the fact that I never saw it in action. The construction in April seems to have put in a load of new pipes to factories, in addition to the ones that were already added for the four or five years when I turned my back.

The route bends to the left if you go south from the first jetty (closest to home). Soon you reached the second one, which is green. Then you ran into a swarm of swallows and a swarm of small flying insects whom the swarm of swallows preyed upon. Halfway to the third jetty, which is white like the first one, you saw a goanna swimming in the water. Bloody goannas, now they're everywhere.

Meanwhile you look left and there are the sandy or muddy estuary of Sungei Pandan I never noticed while I cycled past that place when I was a kid. It looked today more sandy or muddy than it should be but hey, it might be the low tide.

And also the terrapins sometimes I would sight basking along those pipes which would go down and disappear gently into the water, but those folks I didn't get to see today. Maybe they're expecting the rain; maybe the goanna ate them, I don't know.

And on my way back past the green jetty I recalled Dad and I climbing the gates, went to what I must have been thinking to be the middle of the lake, and bothered the swarm of fishes of indeterminate species by spitting into the water. Dad dropped this habit only insofar as he gave up smoking, but that's for another day I guess.

It's too late into the night to write about my thoughts about being as close to nature as I like in the days after enlistment.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hail to the Greenest Branch

Hail to you, verdant rod / that burst forth in the rush of the wind / out of sacred prayers. When your time had come / to blossom on all your branches / the word rang out: Hail to you, Hail to you! The sun’s warmth trickled into you / like the fragrance of balsam.

O viridissima virga, ave,
que in ventoso flabro sciscitationis
sanctorum prodisti.
Cum venit tempus
quod tu florusti in ramis tuis,
ave, ave fuit tibi,
quia calor solis in te sudavit
sicut odor balsami.
Nam in te flourit pulcher flos
qui odorem dedit
omnibus aromatibus
que arida erant.
Et illa apparuerunt omnia
in viriditate plena.

-- Saint Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
performed by Emma Härdelin of Garmarna (2001)