Cool Sport?

I used to think inline skating was only for the ’90s, but today while in Golden Gate Park I happened upon the International Freestyle Inline Skate competition, and it was super cool! I guess this is a really new sport because the competition was really small, but there were still skaters from all over the world there! Some of them are in the video below:

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YouTube Direkt

I totally think this sport is going to get big — it combines skating with hip hop. What’s not to love?

Wine of the Month

Ever since Kieran joined the wine of the month club at our local hoity-toity wine store, I’ve been enjoying reading the outlandish descriptions of wines. I don’t really understand how one wine can simultaneously taste “fruity” “chocolatey” “oaky” and yet also have a “hint of meat.”

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The Essence of Caitlin

Being the cool cat that I am, I decided to follow the latest Facebook fad of looking up your name on Urban Dictionary. What I found was hilarious, mildly offensive and definitely worth sharing.

The definitions started out making total sense:

And then proceeded to enter the land of crazy:

Ya think some of these authors had a personal vendetta against a Caitlin in their life? Check your name on Urban Dictionary if you dare — I just learned so much about myself!

I heart art

Back in Leonardo’s day, few artists’ works were ever seen by anyone other than their mother — actually, I guess by the time you became a decent artist, your mother would probably have died in child birth or of cholera — but I digress. Today, we have the privilege not only of attending museums filled with priceless art, but also of consuming art by thousands of amateurs who have yet to “make it” in the art world. This is part of the reason I love the internet so dearly — it’s a great equalizer. I’ve been browsing deviantART a lot lately and I discovered several photographers I love and want to share.

In particular, this artist, Jonathan Jacobsen, is only 20 years old and produces the most amazing photos.  He lives in Chile, and if it weren’t for the internet, I’d never have seen his work, and neither would you. His series “Rainbow Warriors” brings a smile to my face.

Check out his full gallery here.

I also really like this still life from Little Black Umbrella, a German photographer.

And finally, this photo from Heather Breanne, an 18 year old from the US. Her photos are kind of emo, but pretty nonetheless. Her color palette is perfect for a cold winter night.

Aquamarine Love

Check out this Orbit gum commercial, it’s a dead ringer for the style of The Life Aquatic.

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YouTube Direkthttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3wosOSz1lA

See what I mean?

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YouTube Direkthttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yU8qhbLP0QM

Wes Anderson really can’t go wrong in my book. I’m going to have to watch something by him again soon for my indie fix.

For the romantics

The Beatles, I Will

Yesterday Jeff was playing the Beatles song “I Will” to me, and the lyrics just spoke to me in a completely surprising and delightful way.

Who knows how long I’ve loved you
You know I love you still
Will I wait a lonely lifetime
If you want me to I will

For if I ever saw you
I didn’t catch your name
But it never really mattered
I will always feel the same

Love you forever, and forever
Love you with all my heart
Love you whenever we’re together
Love you when we’re apart

And when at last I find you
Your song will fill the air
Sing it loud so I can hear you
Make it easy to be near you
For the things you do endear you
To me ah, you know I will
I will

I’ve always found it to be a sweet and endearing love song, but this time it just hit me that it’s about the beauty of animals who pair bond for life.

There is a little bird singing his song, and there’s only one other little bird in the whole world that hears his song and thinks it’s beautiful. And though those two little birds may not know much else, they know they’re a pair, and they’ll be together for life. And every spring, they will sing their little bird songs together, until they grow too old to sing.

Today in the park I saw a male bird singing and displaying his magnificent flying skills in hopes of finding his mate. He was ducking and diving, swooping and swirling, and singing his little heart out each time he alighted.

I hope he finds his duet partner soon.

On Dandies

As a lion hunter would study his lioness quarry, I have recently been pondering the fascinating creature of the dandy. To my surprise, there are several websites and articles attempting to dissect, discuss and celebrate (with the appropriate distance and dignity requisite of a dandy) this unique form of masculinity.

I thought I’d share some snippets from an article on dandyism.net, the definitive blog on dandies. They have explained and analyzed dandyism to a degree I couldn’t hope to do myself. And so, I give you their abridged definition of the dandy:

We agree with Barbey d’Aurevilly that dandyism is as difficult to describe as to define. We can opine about effortless elegance and sparkling wit, but dandyism is ultimately characterized by the nearly indescribable effect of the dandy’s appearance and demeanor on the spectator. The French call such effect a je ne sais quoi; in Hollywood it’s called having “it.”

The magic of dandyism resides in the interplay between the dandy’s temperament and his appearance. Yet it is not a question of simple harmony, for one dandy may combine severe dress with a jocular demeanor, while another meshes cold aloofness with colorful and audacious dress.

The common characteristics dandyism.net identifies among dandies are the following: physical distinction, elegance, self-mastery, aplomb, independence — ideally financial independence; wit, a skeptical, world-weary, sophisticated, bored or blasé demeanor; self-mocking and endearing egotism; dignity/reserve; discriminating taste; renaissance man; caprice. However they add the following caveat:

Because dandies are an enigma wrapped in a labyrinth, and because dandyism makes its own rules, the final quality is the ability to negate all the others.

For in the end there is not a code of dandyism, as Barbey writes. “If there were, anybody could be a dandy.”

These definitions and criteria certainly put the plume in the hat when it comes to the outward effects and affectations of a dandy, but I found these comments from another article on wikipedia quite interesting as well.

Charles Baudelaire, in the later, “metaphysical” phase of dandyism defined the dandy as one who elevates æsthetics to a living religion that the dandy’s mere existence reproaches the responsible citizen of the middle class: “Dandyism in certain respects comes close to spirituality and to stoicism” and “These beings have no other status, but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own persons, of satisfying their passions, of feeling and thinking …. Contrary to what many thoughtless people seem to believe, dandyism is not even an excessive delight in clothes and material elegance. For the perfect dandy, these things are no more than the symbol of the aristocratic superiority of his mind.”

What I find so fascinating about this commentary on the dandy is that it elevates dandyism above the material manifestations and ways that the world perceives a dandy and gets straight to the heart of why dandies are the way they are. They love to think, to feel, to pursue their passions — all other manifestations of sophistication are mere reflections of their desire to cultivate their minds and talents.

I’m still marinading about dandies, and would like to continue expounding, but I’m almost too interested in another idea — the definition and inner workings of a female dandy, should she exist.

Mount Koya

After our ecstatic dance party, we embarked on our longest travel day yet, destination: Mount Koya. Mount Koya is one of the holiest mountains in Japanese Buddhism, at one point housing over 4,000 temples.

Our first mode of transport was a large ferry that seemed to be more of a cargo ship. It didn’t have much room for the people on board, and didn’t even have seating. Everyone sat on carpeted areas on one deck of the three-deck ship.

After the two-hour boat ride, we discovered that I had somehow lost our rainbow umbrella. I was sad. I apparently lose things left and right while traveling, but oh well!

Then we caught a series of trains, finally ending with a cable car up Mount Koya itself to the town at the top of the mountain. The cable car was built in the 1930s and travels slowly up a 30-degree hillside. It’s so steep that the interior of the cable car is just a series of steps with benches on the small landings in between.

From the cable car, we rode yet another bus to our lodging, a monastery. In the town of Koya there are over 56 temples and monasteries that take guests. Originally, because it was such a holy place, only pilgrims stayed in these lodgings, but now they allow nonbelievers too, lucky for us.

The monastery was wonderfully peaceful and beautiful, and it was definitely one of the best places we’ve stayed.

It also had lovely gardens on the grounds, including a small pond with fish and newts.

We barely made it to the monastery in time for dinner, which was vegetarian. Japanese vegetarian food is good, but I think I like Chinese vegetarian cuisine better. At any rate, we were exhausted, so we didn’t do much besides eat and sleep.

The next day we both got up at 5:30 for morning prayers. The monks have a morning chanting and pray service starting at 6 a.m. It was definitely interesting, though we didn’t have any kind of guide to translate their prayers or sutras, which would have been much more interesting. It was nice to see monks who were truly devoted, as opposed to the monks at many temples we’ve been to who use most of their time acting as tour guides.

After that, we had breakfast and started our day obscenely early. The first stop on our tour of Koya was Kukai’s tomb. Kukai was the monk that founded the first temple on Koya in 816. Before founding the temple, legend has it that Kukai traveled to China to study Buddhism. Upon his return, he prayed to find a suitable place to found a temple in Japan, and threw his staff. When he returned to Japan, he found his staff on Mount Koya, and so founded a temple there. Kukai founded a new sect of Buddhism, which I can’t really explain well with as little knowledge as I have. But from what I understand, they believe that a person can attain enlightenment within one lifetime, instead of having to reincarnate. It is believed that when this happens, the person will live forever in the state of “eternal meditation,” known to you and me as death. According to scriptures, Kukai predicted his death in 835 and went into a state of deep mediation. To this day, monks bring Kukai three meals a day and place them at his tomb, where I suppose he sits, meditating still.

Because of his holiness, people have been erecting tombs near his for centuries, creating an incredibly large cemetery around his tomb. Lucky for us, this cemetery is right next to the monastery where we were staying (oh joy!). Did I mention I’m afraid of ghosts?

At the far end of the cemetery lies a shrine for Kukai that is illuminated by thousands of lanterns donated by the devoted. It was really quite beautiful. The basement is lined by perhaps a million small statues also donated by parishioners. Behind the shrine is Kukai’s actual tomb, but you cannot go in and witness his meditation.

The cemetery wasn’t too spooky in the early morning, but we took a walk there at dusk after dinner, and I was terrified. Jeff thought that was really funny, but I had nightmares every night we stayed there.

Because the whole town in filled with temples, we bought a through ticket for a selection of them so we wouldn’t have choose for ourselves which ones were worthwhile.

The most beautiful of the temples was basically the Vatican for the sect of Buddhism that Kukai founded. The entire interior was covered in murals of birds, trees, mountains, flowers, rivers — everything you can imagine. It was lovely, but not photos were allowed.

We also visited a museum of artifacts from temples on the mountain. It had many, many statues of different Buddhas as well as very old scrolls of sutras that were beautifully embroidered. Because the objects on display are holy, visitors were allowed to offer incense and money in front of each display, which I’ve never seen at any museum before. Unfortunately there wasn’t any English, so we didn’t learn very much about the exhibits.

Then we wandered from temple to temple, all of which were nestled in a lovely old forest that was turning red for an early fall.

One of the items on our through tickets was a pass for participating in a Buddhist ceremony that sounded something like confirmation. I found it a little unsettling that you could just buy your way into what sounded like a quickie conversion to Buddhism, but I suppose that they were just trying to be welcoming and let people see what their religion was all about.

The next morning we attended the morning prayer service again, mostly out of respect for our hosts. There was a family of devout Buddhists there and the monks invited them to participate, which must have meant a great deal to them. But after they were finished, the monks invited/ordered the rest of us to also offer incense and do some bowing to their Buddha. I felt pretty awful and uncomfortable with it. I think ceremonies like that should really be saved for the devoted, because if a nonbeliever like myself does the same ceremony, isn’t it a little disrespectful and cheapening? That’s one of the things I hate the most about temples open to tourists — people burning incense and spinning prayer wheels just for pictures and a laugh. At any rate, I suppose the monks didn’t want us to feel excluded, and we couldn’t very well refuse, so we did our share of incense burning and bowing at their alter, but I felt dirty all through breakfast.

Since we’d seen all we wanted to the day before, we grabbed our things and headed back down the mountain to our next destination, Osaka, which is probably as different as can be from a monastic retreat.

Dance Party!

After Takamatsu, we went to Tokushima. Tokushima is known for its traditional puppet plays and its yearly dance festival. We missed seeing a play, but boy did we ever have a good time at the dance festival! During the day we went to a town history museum and gardens. The town used to have a castle, but it burned down, so all that’s really left is a museum about the castle. The museum had a scale model of the castle, castle blueprints, artifacts from the castle, a replica ancient market street and a special exhibit on some famous lady who we think was a singer or musician. All the exhibits were in Japanese, so we kind of had to guess. The attached gardens were small but very pretty. The raking pattern suggests waves. Weird moon rock! The gardens had a resident tom cat who looked just like my cat but bigger and missing a larger chunk of ear. For dinner we went to a place recommended by the girl who worked at the tourist info center. It turns out that she used to live in Daly City, so we had a long chat with her. The restaurant specializes in Okonomiyaki, which she said she could never find in the US, so we opted to try it. Okonomiyaki is basically an egg pancake with whatever filling you’d like, and boy are they delicious! You usually cook the pancake yourself, but we obviously had no idea what we were doing, so the waiters and our neighboring diners helped us with ours. After dinner we went to the festival. The festival basically takes over the town for three nights in August and we were there on the last night, which is the craziest. The festival started several hundred years ago, when according to legend courtiers got really drunk and started dancing ecstatically. And that’s pretty much what happens to today. Different dance troupes with their own drummers, flute players and lute players dance down the streets of the town. After dancing down the street, performers would do more intricate performances and spectators joined in on the dancing. It was the first time we got to see Japanese people really let loose and it was so fun! The energy is incredible!

For the first time since being in China, we were somewhere that was truly, truly crowded!

The only way to describe the festival is “orgiastic.” Old and young were dancing and moshing ecstatically, and of course we joined in too! The dance that they do for the festival looks remarkably similar to the way Jeff normally dances — sort of awkward flailing. I’m beginning to suspect that he’s actually half Japanese, not half Chinese, because he sure meshes with Japan better than China.