Thursday, January 28, 2010

I'm Game

Enbrethiliel has a game where you list ten favourite things beginning with the particular letter that is assigned.

The last one she did begins with the letter A. I know it's not a meme, but I couldn't help wonder what some of my favourite things are that begin with A. It is hard! It's especially hard to make it both "comprehensive and specific".

But here they are anyway, in no order of importance:

1. Andrei Rublev - the iconographer (which can also double for 'Andrei Rublev' the film, which can triple for Andrei Tarkovsky, the one who made the film. Triple Whammy. Bling!)

2. Ballade #3 in A-Flat. Pushing it? Maybe.

3. Asiminia Triloba - otherwise known as the Pawpaw tree:

4. Artificial Nigger, The (favourite Flannery O'Connor short story)

5. Argonauts, The - by Max Beckmann. The fact that Beckmann finished the painting (his ninth triptych) the day before he died (or minutes before he died as some sources say) only makes it that much more eerily but beautifully prescient. But look at it in comparison to the other triptychs. It's like all those tensions and contradictions have resolved somehow.

6. A-Team, The

7. April - Easter memories...

8. Adoration - No, I'm not just throwing this one in as a check in the "verifiable Catholic checklist"; I really mean it.

9. Al Yankovic, Weird! Just don't anyone say anything. Leave me alone.

10. This film:

Photo source:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Monday, January 25, 2010

Still Life: done enough

I'm not going to wrangle with this one any longer.

From the Mailbox

You know you're a fan when you actually hope that the sign is real - and then start wondering to yourself about what other kinds of street signs could be similarly adapted.

The pass of Caradhras with a slash through it...for No U-Turns?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

No Dirt on Avatar

Where I remember Cameron's Titanic getting a lot of word-of-mouth that eventually made it the box-office smash that it was (not to mention the repeated viewings by adolescent girls), I'm certain that Avatar's smash has to with the media hype machine. There seemed to be a glaring and calculated push for the film leading up to its release and after. People seem to be seeing the film out of some kind of popular obligation. You know, we gotta see Avatar, because, you know.

I may be totally wrong there though.

What I'm not wrong about is my complete non-desire to see this film. While I can understand the often over-generous Father Barron's case, namely, to go see the film for the visuals, keeping in mind that it is brimming to the teeth with Hollywood-approved "religion", I wonder to myself: how can one watch a film simply for its visuals without imbibing of the anthropology that drives, or underpins them? And if one is immersed in those visuals, thrilling to them, enjoying them, then where is the radar that lets one know that the "underpinnings" are making their way into one's consciousness?

As for the visuals that I've seen of the film so far, they produce no feeling in me that I would want to bathe in them. Alan Capasso's comparing them to Thomas Kinkade's imagery is relevant here. Avatar's visuals may be far less sentimental, but there's an alignment to be made. The glowing of the trees is not like the glowing of the trees about Treebeard's sleeping place. The visuals seem to have a naught-but-brilliant saturation that washes out, in wide open-air vistas that seem to terminate only in the limitless information bank of computer-blue, any notion of real dirt.

I wonder if this film, bound with its visuals, represents the first culturally significant, syncretistic plunge into a "sinless" new era. There is always so much second-guessing at that threshhold: do we really want to jettison all these things that we said have kept us chained back all this time?

Avatar may represent that plunge-taking. Which one could counter with another take on where we are actually heading, like with Werner Herzog's extended funeral procession, Aguirre, The Wrath of God: a film with a different take on nature, and our fallen nature.

I have my problems with Herzog (I often suspect him of being a nihilist), but I've always admired, yes, his visuals; the progression of his images; his going after "ecstatic truth". I especially like his film Fata Morganna.

And I've always liked his hands-on, physical, athletic, chunky realism; the fact that he always uses real things whenever possible, not simply because he wants his films to look real, but because using real objects has an inherent way of whittling the path, the trajectory of your film. Artists love limits.

Take the wonderfully haunting opening from Aguirre, The Wrath of God. That might be one of the floating mountains in Avatar; except for the fact that it's also a thousand other things and yet none of them: that line of people coming down that mountain face, in time, and just a few feet away to the side of them is sheer, ecstatic eternity.

By Lord, if that is not an awesome image of our place in this world, then, well, you might as well plug yourself into the nearest tree and dream away.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Handiwork of Vancouver Police

The only wrong thing he did was open his door to the police (Oh, we were supposed to go to the basement suite door instead - whoops). Watch the video of this man's injuries:

Bones around his eye broken; lacerations and bruising to the knees; back and sides thumped swollen and deep red.

You have to wonder about headlines that use words like, "alleged beating".

Or as John Taschereau writes in an e-mail concerning the release of the article he links to below:

"HERE WE HAVE THE VANCOUVER POLICE Chief desperately trying to fool the reader into thinking the police were “just doing their job” while they ARRESTED AND MERCILESSLY BEAT UP THE WRONG MAN.

And it’s worse than that…Turns out the guy was not even resisting arrest which begs the question: why the police beat the shit out of someone who was not resisting arrest?

And why did the police originally say the man was resisting arrest?

We have two crimes against a law abiding citizen by a corrupt police force.

The answer is because the LAW in this country no longer stands for anything other than the inside boys club of what they can get away with. BC citizens will have to take it to the face a bunch more before they decide the police and the RCMP need to be disbanded and a new, local force put in place.

Vancouver police chief says innocent man beaten by officers did not resist.

Regrettably, the police cannot be trusted. When this kind of thing happens, they are criminals."

Go to the link John provides for an article that gives some details of the case, which took place 2:20 a.m. Wednesday (Jan. 20).

Most of the articles so far, as well as the video linked to above, use words that try to focus one's attention on it being a "wrongful arrest" of "mistaken identity". Well yes, they got the wrong guy. But that doesn't mean beans in this case. One of the sources even uses the words that Yao Wei Wu was "roughed up" during the arrest.

No, actually; he was severely beaten the second he opened up his door.

Vancouver, which is going to host the winter Olympics this February, may have one of the most corrupt police forces around. In the past few years, story after story has come out about beatings - and drunk-driving (then fleeing the scene) - but especially the beatings, and the use of stupid, over-aggressive force, leading to death.

The most well-known to date is the case that took place, and which was caught on video, three years ago at Vancouver airport. Robert Dziekanski, fresh from Poland to be with his mother, after being held in some area of the airport, was shot with Tasers five times, only 25 seconds after police arrived. The first shot brought him to the ground where he started convulsing. The officers proceeded to shoot him with Tasers four more times, and Dziekanski died.

Confiscation and suppression of the video; a lot of testimonies made by the officers in court totally contradicted by evidence later brought out; corrupt investigation into the case; it can be gleaned in this wikipedia article.

Here's the video:

One of the officers involved in the Dziekanski case was later involved in a drunk-driving accident, where he fled the scene and went home where - so he testified - he drank some vodka to calm himself down, and then walked back to the scene whereupon he was given the breath-test.

Police corruption in Vancouver goes back some:

"The Vancouver Police was at the centre of one of the biggest scandals in the city's history in 1955. Feeling frustrated that blatant police corruption was being ignored by the local media, a reporter for the Vancouver Daily Province switched to a Toronto-based tabloid, Flash. He wrote a sensational article alleging corruption at the highest levels of the police department in Vancouver, specifically, that a pay-off system had been implemented whereby gambling operations that paid the police were left alone and those that did not were harassed. After the Flash article appeared in Vancouver, the allegations could no longer be ignored, and a Royal Commission, the Tupper Commission, was struck to hold a public inquiry. Chief Constable Walter Mulligan fled to the United States, another officer from the upper ranks committed suicide, and still another attempted suicide rather than face the inquiry.[5] Other scandals and public inquiries plagued the force before and since this one, dubbed "The Mulligan Affair," but none were so dramatic." --wikipedia

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Wine in Cana

Puritans and those of the puritanical ilk (they need not necessarily be Christian) do not really hate alcohol. What they really hate are enzymes. They cannot stand enzymatic activity. It is not so much the fact that wine can get you drunk that causes them irritation. It is the fact that wine comes out of such a frivolous and unforced process as fermentation that very nearly causes them to go raving mad; for they would rather believe that such an accidental-looking thing as fermentation were an oversight of God rather than admit it was His will. But wine is God's will, or He would not have made it in Cana.

We can say that enzymatic activity, along with all the Christ-precluding symbols created in nature that have anticipated His coming (precluding and anticipating of course precisely because He was already before creation), is a clear natural forerunner symbol of Christ's third manifested epiphany and first public miracle.

There is a limitless range of symbols to be read in nature that mirror God's supernatural working and manifestation in His Son. While it is true that Christ would have suspended the laws of nature to make the wine in Cana, it is also true that the natural enzymatic process of fermentation anticipates this first public miracle of Christ; by mirroring the Cana miracle in the rather miraculous process we call fermentation.

But as natural fermentation anticipated the miracle at Cana, likewise the miracle at Cana represents and anticipates Christ's coming "hour"; the new baptism; the new wine of the Holy Spirit to be poured out on the world.

We can glean from these three - the natural miracle of fermentation, the supernatural miracle of Christ turning water into wine, and that most important thing of all, for which Christ was very impatient: namely, His death, resurrection, and pouring forth of the Holy Spirit - a clear, resounding, threefold image of what our conversion ought to look like, indeed, the fact that our conversion is not just a process, but is ever more away from our own strength.

We will not keep ourselves clean if we do not "dirty ourselves"; that is, if one only clings to their baptism like a passport, or one-way ticket, then over time it will turn out that one is only holding on to their idea of baptism, and the idea of their cleanliness. Things do not always operate, in fact mostly never operate, the way we think - never mind the supernatural ways of God.

Our bowels afford a good example. Anyone with a modicum of knowledge about the human body knows how essential are good bacterium, microorganisms - enzymatic activity; not only for digestion and extraction of nutrients, but for the defenses of the immune system. People who have been put on antibiotics at any point will know this; the risk of contracting something else while taking them, or shortly after. That's not to mention the direct side effects.

The knowledge of good microorganisms in the bowels, and of course everywhere, has given many doctors and practitioners of medicine second thoughts about the use of antibiotics and other "cleaning" operations, such as enemas, and the ways we eradicate germs through chemical sterilization.

The precarious position of our own cleanliness - afforded by undeserved grace through repentance - will turn drastically to one worse than our previous position (the man who came back home from the desert) if our initial baptismal waters are not converted, through the strangely miraculously enzymatic process that is one with the sacrament of baptism, into new wine. It is not enough that we be made whiter than snow, for if we think that, we will not stay white, but will become defiled.

We must be made whiter than snow, but our only way of staying pure is through fermentation: in which, among other things, we develop richness, character, body (this is most importantly in spirit, not "personality", for it is often that these things are not apparent to ourselves) that consoles other people like the inebriation of the finest wine.

This is, in part, what the Catholic Church means when she says that baptism is the beginning, not the end-all-be-all, of conversion. Baptism is sufficient, as a beginning. Oh, it's very necessary, but there still remains, for all of us, complete transformation.

Now, sin is ever the "inferior wine"; the wine that runs out, that is extremely limited; the evil charade and mockery of the good wine; the artificial wine that leaves you with a headache because it has been filtered of microbes, and perhaps adulterated with taste-enhancing additives.

Notice that the inferior wine is spent when Jesus makes the new wine. There will not be any mixing; no "bettering" of the inferior wine by adding some good wine into it. He could well have foreseen the shortage and made a surplus before any servant noticed the depletion. On top of this, the new wine is made in different containers - indeed, the jugs used for purification - rather than the ones that held the inferior wine.

We can witness here the very image of conversion. It is obvious enough: the old self completely dies; not just the manifest acts, the inferior wine of sin, but also the container that held it; and an entirely new container is given to hold…this time, water - humble water. You are filled to the brim with water, for after the habits of sin, nothing better will do but that clean equilibrium of clear water, held with awe, the fear of God.

Sometimes it feels like you are not even holding this water. Though you may be certain it is there, you cannot feel the liquidity of the water; it can feel just like clean empty space because you are holding the water so deeply and so docilely.

Notice how big these stone purification jugs are: twenty to thirty gallons each. To be so hollowed out; the thought of going from that small but full jar of inferior wine to this large container that is hollowed out is scary. How can I have that much room inside myself? I cannot give that much up. But God hollows us out, through purification that necessarily hurts.

One - the water - is brought on by revoking something, banishing it, repenting of it, emptying ourselves, and being emptied by God, of it: a form of subtraction and submission. The other - the new wine - is brought on by positive addition, and is another kind of submission. We are made into new wine from water by conforming, in addition to repenting, and continuing to repent.

So, to bring up another natural thing that symbolizes the supernatural: it was in God's plan that we delight in wine, for even in that delight we catch a meager and limited modicum, a pale and paltry reflection of God's delight in us - when we conform to Him in whose image and likeness we were made.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Prayer Request

Dear readers, I ask your prayers for my brother-in-law's father who unexpectedly passed away last night. Please pray for the wife of the deceased and for their sons; for the grandchildren and my sister.

Thank you.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Mary and God

Small sketch of the Balrog and Gandalf on Bridge of Khazad-dûm

Probably one of the most difficult images for artists to render from Tolkien's middle-earth is the Balrog, perhaps being second in difficulty only to the Ents. Though of course it is also one of the most enjoyable. It's just that so many of the images don't attain the peculiar vividness. I do not include this little sketch by any means as an exception.

The figure itself needs to be more engulfed within another black shape, as if there were two entities.

Peter Jackson's is sufficiently scary. But I find his leans too much towards the cloven-hoofed, beast-demon type. It's precisely when Tolkien describes the Balrog as being "man-shape" that suddenly the frightening foreboding, not-yet-seen terror becomes really freaking scary. Why is that?

We can go to town envisaging a fang-toothed, ember-eyed, flame-dripping beast-amalgam; but what is it when the demon in question is envisioned as having something like a huge and heavy crown, a too solemn princely dignity, a royal state that is also in every respect utterly perverse and wielded for horror, and suddenly it becomes just a little too real?

In the end every one of us is going to have a ruler: the One Who rules in heaven or the one who rules in hell.

It takes months for winter to die

To be oo-de-lallying through the summer woods right now…

And the summer always seems to be as short as that song.

Someone told me once that the winter solstice (Dec. 21) was given such import by early people in the north because it was a psychological way of dealing with the darkness: after winter solstice the days do naught but get gradually longer - with every passing day. You know they are even when it doesn’t appear so. It's a good handle to have.

It's good especially for those who sicken of winter, like me, when it has only just arrived. The sun's trajectory rises higher and higher through the winter, which is the winter's death knell. We don't get much snow on the coast, but when we do I welcome it. The cold and cloudy skies and rain also find welcome, but the perpetuity of it gets to me quickly. I have to admit I am a summer man.

Some would say that every person is a summer person, but that's not so. Many find the heat gets to them just as quickly as the winter gets to me. They want a San Francisco climate. But I love the heat, and when it turns to a mighty heat-wave I'm not bothered. I'm not one of those tan-sporting beach-party summer guys, but give me my bike and sandals and backpack, free-wheeling it to the woods, or any other numerable such things, and I'm set.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

If bees can bring honey from flowers...

Father Dwight has a bee-you-tee-full post on "Honey from the Rock", right here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Watched "Up" the other night...

Up is without a doubt Pixar's most emotional film to date, and there was a noticeable improvement on the villain front. The Incredibles still remains my favourite though. I thought the beginning retrospect where Carl Fredricksen enters the rickety, sun-lit house as a child - the moment that defines the rest of his life - so very, very tender and saturated with a reality not yet seen before in a Pixar film. It just feels like someone's real, full-blooded memory, filled with sublimity and pain; with the unutterably beautiful gifts given by God.

Unfortunately the entire story is so lacking. The house going up with the balloons...yes, I can go along with that...the man and kid walking through the jungle with the house tethered to them...sure, I can follow...the strange dogs with, uhm, okay, I can go along with that (cheek a little bitten)...the dogs flying the airplanes...that's it, nope, forget it; I am not willing to accept that. My elastic whimsy cord has been snapped at that point.

There is a truthful, "we-gotcha" moment, when the kid Russell responds to Carl's indignation towards Russell's calling his mother by her first name. You don't see that, well, pretty much ever in a popular film today. There's Carl's decision to embark on a new adventure. Good stuff. But the story itself feels threadbare.

The Incredibles remains on top. And I don't have a second favourite from Pixar. Too many mixed bags.

Hopkins and The Northern Lights

"Sept. 24. First saw the Northern Lights. My eye was caught by beams of light and dark very like the crown of horny rays the sun makes behind a cloud. At first I thought of silvery cloud until I saw that these were more luminous and did not dim the clearness of the stars in the Bear. They rose slightly radiating thrown out from the earthline. Then I saw soft pulses of light one after another rise and pass upwards arched in shape but waveringly and with the arch broken. They seemed to float, not following the warp of the sphere as falling stars look to do but free though concentrical with it. This busy working of nature wholly independent of the earth and seeming to go on in a strain of time not reckoned by our reckoning of days and years but simpler and as if correcting the preoccupation of the world by being preoccupied with and appealing to and dated to the day of judgment was like a new witness to God and filled me with delightful fear." --Gerard Manley Hopkins, from his note-books (italics mine)
The first and so far only time that I saw the Northern Lights was driving through Ontario, making my way back to B.C. In the black mountainous thick of the wilds, the road curved either way before me, devoid of familiarity, devoid twice over: once for me not having ever driven through Ontario before, and twice for it being pitch night. Signs warning for the encroachment of moose or elk regularly went past, and my vertical axis of being grounded was also thrown out, since the road constantly went up and down.

Then there were the semi-trucks that would appear from behind and bear down. I could decipher vaguely the stronger darks of mountains against the dark sky, and at one point I seemed to come around a curve and I was staring at something ahead of me; apparently it was the sky, which again, could be seen by the negative contrast of mountains. Slowly it dawned on me that I was looking at Northern Lights.

It's not a sight you are suddenly startled by, like say a white mountain or a particularly intense sunset. It is something that hugely takes you in before you fully see it. And then when you do see what you are looking at, that is, when you are consciously telling yourself that you are now looking at that wonderful phenomena that the human race has named the Northern Lights, they do not cease to be wholly different and strange as on your first gaze, but everything around you then becomes like an abyss of hugely present peace - a scarily living peace, a strange wonderful wide world. You are looking into another time zone from the one you are in.

But Hopkins gets to what they are like - indeed, what they really are - much more clearly.

Drawing - Forest

Monday, January 4, 2010

My newest idols

I was at the coffee store and said it's now or never, and so splurged a bit. They have the dual virtues of making me cut back on the amount of coffee I drink, because of the time one has to put into manually grinding the beans, boiling the water, steeping and pressing, the somewhat intricate process of washing the press out; and then of making me savour the coffee I have in the cup, because it's ten times better than from the drip machine.

And shouldn't coffee be like that?


The idea of grinding my own pigments from native minerals has taken hold, though just a cursive glance at this field is somewhat dazzling and dizzying in spite of all the simplicity about it. A small part of the desire has to do with the ideal of local sustainability (how less dependent can I get on industrial manufacturing and shipping/importing, and can it be brought to the point of no dependence?). But the greater part of the desire has to do with being intimate with one's materials in a way that it causes you to appreciate more the characteristic of a particular pigment, making you more sensitive to its potential, and especially hunkering down with good old limits: a discipline where the science of your materials and their application is respected with regards to permanency and at the same time is fused with your vision, making your vision more real because it is humbled.

The notion has been growing since I read a small Canadian Geographic article about one artist-and-iconographer in Ontario. During my great root canal epic (a root canal in five sittings, since it was the one tooth that had a root canal ten years previous, making for what the dentist called the longest known dental operation, since they have to go in and take everything out that was put in to be permanent all those years before and then putting new stuff in…one of the sittings being four hours…fun, fun, fun!) I came upon the article while waiting in the operating chair, and something about it seemed providential. I determined right there to remember the name of the artist in the article who went about looking for ways to make his entire palette from minerals and deposits from his native Ontario, so that I could search his name on the internet and hopefully come upon a site.

Naturally, I completely forgot the name, and halfway forgot the article. Nonetheless, I came across his site without even looking for it, and seeing his name on the site I said: Oh yeah! That's the guy I read about! Of course I was searching on making one's own pigments.

The article in The Canadian Geographic didn't really do justice to the pursuits of this artist/iconographer; it made him look like a dabbling hobbyist. This guy is really into it, and yet, he's been going into it without knowing a whole lot about it. He seems to use as many resources (both literary and physical) that he can, going to old mines and queries, lakes and rivers; using kilns and furnaces; growing his own woad plants to make Maya blue.

You can go to his site/blog here. Be sure to search through older entries.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Garden Sprawl Friday

About three weeks ago the boss and I went to a forested area, owned by someone he knows, to collect ferns. Sitting across from a gas station the forest has some parts cleared, for it will probably be developed.

We came across a decaying Douglas Fir stump with - my heart always leaps to behold - red huckleberry bushes growing out of it. The boss knows my obsession for this vaccinium, and so we set to deft swings with the pick-axe and digging out the red humus onto the tarp, carefully taking out the bushes with their roots and trimming off some of their tops.

He said this stump was probably 100 years old; not the tree-growth age itself but that together with the time it takes to rot. It takes a long time for Douglas Fir to reach this beautiful state:

Even then, the outer parts of the stump were still solid and rooted immovably in the ground.

Now I must find solid or half-decayed logs of fir as well as some severed stumps, either with rotted material at the core or hollowed out (as they can simply be filled with humus).

The logs go on the bottom that has been sufficiently dug down, so that the logs are about half to three quarters submerged below the ground. On top of the logs go the stumps. Into the stumps goes the humus (if not already present). On top of that goes a good layer of more humus, with pine needles, sand, and other forest duff. Into that top layer go the red huckleberry bushes.