Another Distant Mirror

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May 9, 2019-

I have spent much of the past several days, sequestered in my house, waiting for the corporate entity which employs substitute teachers in our county to finish its processing of my papers.  I am sticking close to home, mainly to stretch my dollars as, while I have a sufficient income, it will still be an involved summer and economy is critical.  The activities that occupy me are sorting out unneeded possessions, exercising, reading- and Netflix.

I have taken to a series, called “The Last Kingdom”, an historical fiction loosely based on the life and times of Alfred the Great, who began the process of unifying the regions of what is now England, in the 9th Century.  It is similar to Barbara Tuchman’s  “A Distant Mirror”, in tone and scope.  Many of the themes with which we are familiar today, occurred in both long-ago times, and most likely have appeared in every era of human endeavour.

I focus here on two recurrent themes in human history:  The tendency to gloss over a person’s achievements, whilst calling excess attention to the same person’s failures; the dichotomy in the level of treatment of women and girls, between those interested in maintaining authority and those living a simpler life, closer to the soil.

In “Kingdom”, Alfred is depicted as one more concerned with maintaining the primacy of the rich and powerful, including himself, than with dispensing true justice.  It is noted, as we know about the Dark Ages, and on into the Renaissance/Reformation, that alliances rose and fell on a whim.  It is noted that manipulative figures operated with impunity, and those who challenged them were either killed or banished-as the central character in “Kingdom”, Uhtred Ragnarsson, experiences banishment and redemption, several times.  It is shown that women had to assert themselves, fiercely, if they were to avoid battering and a life of humiliation.

Of course, as in any depiction of events not occurring in real time, there is undoubtedly a fair amount of amplification and embellishment in the series, based in turn on Bernard Cornwell’s  “Saxon Tales”.    The human struggle will long be what it has been, as man deals with the issues of justice, equity and the balance of power in society.

I have my sense as to how the series will pan out.  I also have a sense as to how the human race will continue to evolve-and the ebb/flow inserted into both processes.

A Step at a Time

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March 31, 2019-

I made it to Planet Fitness, despite a sense of fatigue after a trip to Phoenix and back, having attended a worthwhile, but somewhat tiring, meeting.  I was glad to have not had to drive, with a competent friend at the wheel instead.

Tonight’s workout came after a twenty-minute catnap.  I feel better, having done the 30-minute express, followed by ten minutes on the hydrobed.  Bittersweet March has thus, in the end, affirmed that there is still quite a bit left in this sexagenarian frame.  I get appreciative glances from ladies, the younger among them knowing, as well as I do, that that is as far as it goes.  It feels nice, regardless.

It is now full-on Spring.  Tomorrow, we will see what practical jokes remain to be played.  Later in the month come Chalk-It-Up, Earth Day, Easter and the Twelve Days of Ridvan, commemorating Baha’u’llah’s Declaration of His Mission.  I will get my annual physical at the VA, sometime during the month, and will visit the Grand Canyon, on Good Friday.

April, as a wise colleague once remarked, cannot be the cruelest month.  Sorry, T.S. Eliot.

Jeju, Part 7: The Fox In The Cave, and The Peacocks Above- II

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March 15, 2019, Hallim, Jeju-do-

Emerging from Ssanyong-gul had, momentarily, an other-worldly ambiance.

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We were re-entering a place with the sense of Paradise, and one taking the shape of 2/3 of a heart.  This was appropriate, given the theme of this journey.

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Some observers liken this piece, at the entrance to the Stone and Bonsai Garden, to an eagle. To me, it seemed a mighty angel.

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This is so very true.

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A patient and long-suffering mother comforts a squawling child, just shy of the Gift Shop.

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I found myself looking at Dino, from “The Flintstones”.

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This wind-polished basalt presents several smug-looking likenesses, especially on the top front.

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Despite the chill and drizzle of the past several days, the cherry and apple trees are starting to fully bloom.

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So, too, are the camellia bushes.

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The incredible range of the sculptures in the Stone Collection could enchant a visitor for days.

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This piece evokes Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”.

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The superimposed basalt here reminds me of likenesses of Queen Nefirtiti, of ancient Egypt.

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As is common in water parks, koi have a considerable presence, here in Hallim Park

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As in Seong-eup, preserved thatched-roof homes of old Jeju are found here in Hallim.  There seems to be a tighter binding of the thatch, among those homes of the western part of the island.  This style is specific to Hallim, Hyop-jae and Aewol villages.

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Peacocks abound here, especially in the area designated Bird Park.

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Ostriches cap the offerings of Bird Park, and it is fascinating to watch the great birds eat.

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A faux waterfall invites visitors to consider going to Jeju’s authentic cataracts.

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This Peace Monument expresses the hope of the Korean people for eventual unification of the peninsula.

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Thus, we caught a snapshot of Hallim Park, which could easily have occupied a full eight hours.  There was, however, a plane to catch, back to Busan.  My final day in Korea, on this trip, will take in some of the port city’s highlights-around Marine City and Haeundae.

 

Jeju, Part 6: The Fox in the Cave, and the Peacocks Above- I

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March 15, 2019, Hallim, Jeju-do-

We got out of Ga San Ho Bang, in relatively short order, this morning, as there was a fairly long drive ahead of us and breakfast had to be factored into the mix.  We went up Jeju’s west coast to Hallim, site of both yellow sand and lava beaches.

Settling on a small establishment that offered the abalone porridge I’d been craving for a day or so, my intrepid young hosts found themselves invited to cook their own eggs to order.

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Chefs for a morning

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Abalone porridge and tuk-pae-gi (seafood hotpot) were accompanied by side dishes.

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Below, is myok-guk, or Korean seaweed soup.

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Arriving at Hallim Park, a multivariate sampler of Jeju life, along with a rich botanical garden and aviary, we strode this blend of tropical and mountain flora.

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Before long, we entered Hyopjae-gul (cave), which Penny, Aram and I had visited once, when he was about a year old.  The first of three caves on this site, Hyop-jae is largely sedimentary rock.  Another cave on the route is made of lava.

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On this rock, which fell from the roof of the cave, one can see luminescence-from microorganisms that thrive on its surface.

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When we emerged from Hyopjae-gul, we were greeted by this small army of Stone Guardians.  The collection is one of the master works of Hallim Park’s founder, Song Bong-gyu.

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Mr. Song is still alive and working hard, to constantly improve his visionary work.

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Once past the dol-harubang collection, I decided to get a fuller view.

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I reflected on this message, as we walked.  I am in the prime of my life, right now, but there are always challenges to face, both internally, and from people who have floated in and out of my life.

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Mr. Song gathered these faceless stone guardians, perhaps as a reminder that there are always those around us who give away little of their thoughts and intentions.

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Yunhee is an example of a shining light, in the midst of darkness. This scene is in Ssangyong (Two Dragons) Cave, so named because legend has it that two great fire-breathers once lived here.

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I took photos in this cave, without using flash, so as to minimize disruption to the experience of our fellow visitors and to emphasize that there is a modicum of bio luminescence here.

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There is a legend of a certain Dr. Jin, who. as a child, chose to explore Ssangyong Cave, rather than go directly to school.  He found the company of a delightful young girl, who had a bead with which they played, as well as dancing about and singing.  Unbeknownst to him, the girl was actually a fox, which had shape-shifted in order to enchant Dr. Jin.  One day, young Jin swallowed the bead and found himself feeling quite ill. He encountered a man, outside the cave, who warned him that the girl was really this fox and that he would not be able to return to the cave.  Jin recovered and went on to become a legendary healer.

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With that, I leave you and will return with Part 2 of our Hallim Park adventure:  The Stone Art, Tropical Botanic Garden and Bird Park exhibits, as well as an indoor Stone Art collection.

Jeju, Part 2: Jeju Stone Park in Fresh Eyes

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March 13, 2019, Jeju-

My camera’s battery quit, midway through our Jeju Stone Park experience.  Fortunately, my son, Aram, who is also my co-host, had a fresh, new camera on hand. So, without further ado, here are twelve more photos of the park, chosen at random from those he shared with me.

I’d guess this is a frog-spirit, in prayer.

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Perhaps, this is a disconsolate basset hound.

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This could be a model of the lake, at the top of Mt. Halla.

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Here is a geode, turned into a globe.

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Paek Un-cheol had these mounted, back in Tamna Mokseokwon.

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This eerie scene features the Guardian Children, also brought from Mokseokwon.

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“Your turn to curtsy, my turn to bow.”

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Another dystopian scene-perhaps an anti-Stonehenge.

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The Museum, seen from the west.

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This great pile of boulders resembles a tumulus, particularly with the stone entrance way.

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This new institute for the furtherance of Jeju culture has several admirers, eagerly waiting for its 2020 opening.

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My daughter-in-law, a curator at the museum, and I are on our way off the grounds.

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Needless to say, I will be back in a few years, as Korea is certainly part of my extensive travel itinerary, post-retirement.

NEXT: Songsan Ilchulbong, Where the Sun Greets Jeju.

 

 

Jeju, Part 1: The Stone Dream of Mr. Paek

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March 13, 2019, Jeju, South Korea-

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There are new discoveries, in this life, constantly-and there are re-discoveries.  Today, the three of us headed down to Jeju, a burgeoning resort island, off Korea’s southwest coast.  From 1986-92, Penny and I were part of Jeju, serving as Visiting Professors of English, in two departments of Cheju National University.  Aram became part of the community, in 1988, being one of two American children born on the island, up to that point.

During that time, Mr. Paek Un-cheol, a spiritual gem of a man, was waging a small but concerted effort to preserve Jeju’s unique traditional culture.  He found an amazing variety of figures, made naturally by water and wind, among the volcanic rocks and driftwood that dotted various points along the island’s shores and on the mountain slopes of its interior.

His first effort, Tamna Mokseokwon, was a constant haven for us to visit and regain a natural semblance of order and serenity.  With his mother’s passing, and with development in the name of tourism becoming a growing threat to Jeju’s traditional culture, Mr. Paek found an ally in the same officials who were a driving force in that very tourism development, the Board of Supervisors of North Jeju County, the area comprising the northern half of the island outside Jeju City proper.  Jeju-shi, as it is known in Korean, has since subsumed the county, with Seogwip’o-shi (So-gi-PO) having subsumed the southern half of the island.

In 1999, the two sides found common ground in establishing Jeju Stone Park, and in 2005, the new park opened to the public.  We took in the eastern part of the park, and its museum, in the two hours we had.  Another visit, or two, looms in the future.  In this post, I will share those scenes captured, before my hard-working camera’s battery ran low.  In a second post, scenes captured by my son’s camera will be featured.

So, here are seventeen scenes to be found at Jeju Stone Park, a place that could easily enchant me for a full day, at minimum.

We found ourselves among the few remaining visitors, as this was a cold, brisk afternoon.

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These arrangements leave much to the imagination.  What do you suppose this rock resembles?

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Here are some traditional Jeju thatched roof houses.  One may stay in such a home, for W40,000 per night.

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Here, I envisioned a standing bear and a pair of witches.

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These nineteen steps commemorate Mr. Paek’s agreement with the County Board of Supervisors, in 1999.

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These are some of the figures I recognize from Tamna Mokseokwon.

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The legend of Grandmother Seolmundae is the impetus for the preservation of Jeju’s stone heritage.

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Here are more figures, transported from Mokseokwon.

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My precious ones are captivated.

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These stone “wishing towers” are meant to honour the spirits that are said to inhabit the countryside of Jeju.

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Perhaps this is a likeness of such a spirit.

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Mr. Paek and a team of engineers created Sky Pond, to set the mood for a visit to the Park’s museum, and to honour the element of water.

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The museum itself contains many examples of both stone and tree root art.  This is stone depiction of the island of Jeju and its tributary isles.

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Reach out to the stones, but do not touch!

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Perhaps this bird is wanting freedom from its tether.

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I see duck, or perhaps a platypus.

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Here might stand a  Hadrosaur, or horn-billed dinosaur.

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In the next post, my son’s new camera will provide more magic, both in the museum and beyond.  What he found has convinced me to return to Jeju Stone Park, most likely during my envisioned lengthy travels, a few years hence. Then, I will wish to stay in one of those traditional Jeju houses.

 

 

Hanok Village: History as Enterprise, Part II

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March 11, 2019, Jeonju, South Korea-

As promised, I continue here with the second half of our little family’s tour of this blend of history and modern entrepreneurship.  It most closely reminds me of the Belgian city of Bruges, in that regard.

We felt the need for lunch, so we stopped at Kyodong Dok Kalbi, which offers a limited number of pibimbap dishes, along with a chopped, pressed and pre-cooked version of Kalbi (beef or pork ribs).   Their herbarium provides many of the key ingredients.

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Here, my Korean relatives observe the round of side dishes, which are essential in any true Korean meal. There are usually a few varieties of kimchi, steamed spinach, some small sardines, buckwheat noodles, and some cold pressed vegetable gelatin.  Miso (fermented soup) and a bowl of white rice accompany the meat.  We ate using chopsticks and a large spoon.

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Having eaten our fill of satisfying dok kalbi and “fixings”, we felt content as cherubim.

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So, we walked along the road that leads to a straw-roofed complex.  We came upon this irrigation stream, with various animals of the Oriental zodiac as conduits for the water.

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The fortunate woman has a husband who is willing to be her servant, at least on occasion.

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Jeonju is largely devoid of street murals, so this vertical rainbow was a sublime surprise.

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Many Korean families have at least a small garden plot.  This one is at a traditional Tea House, where we stopped for cups of medicinal herbal tea.

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It is the Tea House which sports the traditional “Jeobuk” straw roof.  The proprietress was surprised at the approach of a mixed group of Koreans and Americans, but was very gracious.

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To the east of Hanok, there lies a shanty area, climbing the hillside.  I took this photo from the Tea House grounds.  Later, we would get closer to the settlement, which lies across a divided highway.

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Here are the flowers of the cauliflower plant.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESHere is a view of the Tea House’s main garden.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESFor those wishing to sip their tea in an indoor setting, there is a silk-covered mat, on which one sits cross-legged.  The pearl-inlay chest is a common decor in many Korean homes.

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These yellow buttercups match their vase.

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This small shrine blesses the garden plants.

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Outside this small shrine is a depiction of one of the scenes from the Ten Ox-Herding Series, an allegory of one man’s quest for spiritual enlightenment.

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Here is a small Buddhist shrine.

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As we arrived at the edge of the highway, I looked across to the shanty, and spotted Edward Scissorhands.

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We left the heights and went back down to the main street of Hanok, passing this traditional pavilion, a gathering place in Jeoson days.

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Next, along the way, was the place where King Taejo was crowned first monarch of the Jeoson Dynasty.

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The coronation courtyard is graced by this stone wheel, dating from 1392.

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These stone lions guard the entrance to a nearby guest house.

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Thus ended our four-hour visit to Jeonju Hanok Village.  There is much more to this bustling district.  Perhaps a future visit will mean an overnight stay.

Feeling the need for some rejuvenation, we went to Damyang Spa Resort, about forty minutes north of the farmstead.  There, we experienced sauna, hot and cold waters, and I underwent a thorough treatment from an exfoliation specialist, a sort of masseur, who scrubbed me, head to toe, with a rough cloth, then rubbed cleansing oil.

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Quotidia Beget Adventure

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March 7, 2019, Los Angeles-

Among the phenomena which might be overlooked, when one is en route to a special destination, is the landscape below an airplane circling for a safe landing.  Such was the case this evening, as our Sky West flight from Phoenix got cleared for landing at LAX.

This was the first time in memory that I had a window seat, and thus could look at the vast expanse of  territory that is the Los Angeles Basin.  With all that has been written, bantered and felt about LA and its smog, congestion and excess, the place as a whole is a marvel, when seen from 8,000 feet-especially at night.  Some SoCal-phobes will reply that a mess can’t be a marvel, but we know better.  One does not have to approve of  what is the current situation, to be amazed at how much humanity is packed into even such a vast area.

Prior to this, I put in a full day at work and was glad to leave my charges with a sense of accomplishment, leading up to the ten-week homestretch that follows Spring Break,  The shuttle van down to Phoenix was an equally smooth and quotidian process, with us arriving at Sky Harbor with time to spare.  Barrio Avion provided tender and spicy beef for my farewell burrito.

Two three-year-old boys, meeting by chance and becoming fast friends, provided the after-dinner entertainment.  G., a new older brother, very much appreciated the presence of J., his new friend.  Watching them play with miniature cars and trucks, hide and seek and get lectured by their respective fathers, for shaking the line stantions, that are used to separate groups of boarding passengers.  There was no lack of spirit with these two.  Indeed, my first encounter with G was his running up the aisle, momentarily unbeknownst to his parents.  I kept my distance, but also kept an eye on him, in case he made it clear to the TSA  area.  Mom was on scene, 30 seconds later, and brought him safely back to the gate lobby.  Then J and father showed up and more localized activity took over.

We landed at LAX, about fifteen minutes late.  I then embarked on a 1 1/4-mile walk, from the United terminal to the Asiana booths, at Tom Bradley International (AKA Terminal B).  I am in the shape to undertake such a luggage lug, but I wonder how disabled people are accommodated, with the City of Cars expecting everyone to walk, with no electric sidewalks and only the occasional elevator, along the labyrinth.

I made it, with the loudspeaker calling my name, four times, as the Koreans wanted to verify my new passport.  I heard them and felt their pain, eventually getting to show the document to the chief of security at Asiana and receiving his swift assistance, in getting through the line, to the check-in booth and onto the shuttle bus that brought us to the plane.  It was an East Asian style shuttle, meaning that a packer was on hand, to shout at and cajole us into cramming as tightly as possible.  I actually kind of miss those days, in Seoul and Jeju, though I must say young men are less prone to grab all the seats and make women and older men stand for the ride.  That is the one thing about the old days that never failed to get me rankled, especially when Penny was pregnant with Aram.

I’m on the plane now, seated with an elegant woman from Colombia and a Korean student, on Spring Break from her school in Arizona.  It’ll be a long, and I sense, restful, journey to Seoul.

A Desert Sort of Sway

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February 9, 2019, Chandler, AZ-

After my satisfying Saturday morning routine, I headed down here, to this bustling eastern suburb of Phoenix, to take in several hours of  Arizona Roots, a music and art festival that smashes the monotony of winter in the desert.  I was clued to this event by one of my friends from last Fall’s Convergence at Arcosanti.

I didn’t find her there, but I did find the sort of atmosphere that I experienced at Convergence, albeit a loving atmosphere, writ large.  Instead of dozens of gentle souls crammed into a room, there were several hundred crammed into the area in front of the Main Stage.

There were artisan ensembles, like The Clint Stevens Band, just getting together and having some laid-back fun.  Then, there was the mix of serious message and hakuna matata, from J-Boog and Rebelution, who did the Main Stage proud, while I was in its midst.

Although everyone there was a “total stranger” to me, it was easy to revert to Convergence dance form, and alternately bounce up and down, sway back and forth, and flash the Hawaiian thumb and pinky greeting at Jarell, whilst he was leading J-Boog, in a feisty 55-minute set of heartfelt reggae.

 

Here is one of their signature songs, about a lovely Hawaiian lady who makes J’s heart sing.

I felt none of the awkward “Really, old dude” self-talk that made me feel, initially, like a duck out of water, at Convergence. It helped to remember what a great time I had there, after letting that pointless crap go.  So, I enjoyed 3 1/2 hours of “anonymous camaraderie”,  that evokes what I probably missed at the great music festivals of the ’60’s and ’70’s.  I had a lovely time, without any recreationally-enhancing substances.  To be sure, these were flowing, and wafting, quite freely. I’m goofy enough on my own, and remember what a horror show I was, as a drunk and as a stoner, before 1981, and sobriety.  Here is the scene, as J-Boog worked their magic.

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As I was entering the grounds, Rebelution was in mid-set.  The mid-afternoon crowd wasn’t quite revved up, as yet.20190209_161757[1]

Next time, I know to check for Early-Bird ticket prices, in mid-November.  A scalper, in the parking lot, offered me a “two-days for one” deal, which showed desperation.  I did not have any intention of sharing my PI with him, or anyone else on the street, and I have other commitments for tomorrow, so I passed.  I hope to make it for both days, a year from now, as these sorts of gatherings are good for my soul-and this is, for good measure, the largest such event I have attended, without being spooked.  I’d say that’s a very good sign.

 

Can and Will

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January 5, 2019, Prescott-

I woke up this morning, my legs stiff from yesterday’s hike, and hit upon the idea of high stepping, as a way of loosening the joints.  It worked and my left knee feels mobile and, I dare say, good as new.  Many of our difficulties with aging come from disuse, or improper use, of our parts.  That’s not the whole shebang, but it does have a lot to do with quality of life, as the years roll on- and I fully intend to go for the maximum.

This evening, I went to watch a silly Transformers film, mainly because the story line was about a teenager in whom no one believed.  Such people have been my heart, for so long, that I wanted to see the predictable triumph over self and others, which doesn’t always happen in real time.  She fixed a car and made a friend-the rest falling into place, haphazardly, but nicely.

Other films coming up will feature women who stand tall and beat oppressors.  This has always been important to me, that both boys and girls know they can go the distance and reach whatever heights to which they aspire-so long as they take life’s setbacks and turn them into comebacks.

Five years ago, this June, I visited  the tower where Jeanne d’Arc was imprisoned and  stood on the spot where she was immolated.  Today, no one gives much thought to the fact that the leader of French resistance to foreign rule was a peasant woman.  She is seen as simply having been a leader.

No human, who stands for what is in the heart and does the work necessary to accomplish deeply-cherished goals, is doomed to failure.