Monday, November 28, 2011

still-sound 20. Persimmon

Persimmons in a full moon bowl I recently made.

 Rob works in a hospital in Chinatown and several weeks ago some of his colleagues presented him with persimmons.  I remarked that the gifts were 'most auspicious'.  Auspicious is only a word I use when persimmon also appears in a sentence.  Not really knowing what to do with all of this fruit, Rob baked them into a cake.  He added a large handful of chocolate chips to the batter to make the cake 'more Steve'.  I appreciated this addition.  When I ate the first slice, still warm from the oven, the melted chocolate ran on to the plate. 

Rob made the cake for me to bring to my mother in Arizona.  He didn't come with me so the cake was supposed to take his place.  When she tried it, she claimed that this cake was the 'most delicious cake she's ever had'.  I was pleased that she liked it so much although I remember she said exactly the same thing when we bought her a birthday cake a few years ago from a Korean bakery.  It was the super soft spongy kind that they like in Asia, frosted with sweet cream and covered in fruit.

If we had had more persimmons I would have attempted to make kaki-shibu or persimmon tannin juice.  I learned how it's made by watching my favorite tv program, At Home With Venetia in Kyoto.  Venetia uses the juice to treat the wooden furniture and exterior of her house.  It's a natural insect repellent and waterproofer.  It's also a beautiful dye.  In fact the guys who taught Venetia how to mash the persimmons and squeeze out the juice do so regularly to provide enough dye for their mother to use in her exquisitely patterned fabric work.  As she watched the mashed, unripened persimmons get thrown into a bucket, Venetia asked one of the guys if she could have a taste.  After dipping her finger in the green substance, she admitted with a little smile, 'that doesn't taste very nice at all'.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

still-sound 19. Garland of Letters

Mademoiselle de la Valliere from Cire Trudon

My fascination with incense began in two places: church and a little new age shop in Philadelphia called Garland of Letters.  I will write about church incense another time. Today I'm thinking about the little bookstore on South Street which was almost a weekly destination for me in the late 1980s when I was in high school.  South Street was home to Zipperhead and Tower records - two daytime hangouts for teenagers with Gothic tendencies, like myself. Garland of Letters most likely grabbed my attention since Garlands is the name of the first Cocteau Twins album.  It's not an exaggeration to state that the Cocteau Twins were more or less my religion back then.  In fact, it's probably still true. 

The life-size lion sculpture prowling the entrance of the shop probably caught my eye as well.  It stalked the vestibule that was flanked on either side by long glass vitrines diplaying the other-wordly wares of the store.

I discovered the Auroshikha line of incense at Garland of Letters, nestled between gongs and trays of semi-precious stones.  I tried various flavors from the line but consistently bought gardenia and magnolia.   The scent of the sweet smoke could be described as a creamy white floral, somewhere between gardenia and tuberose.  At the same time of my life I would find potted gardenias for sale at the supermarket - usually in January or February.  I would choose the plant with the most blossoms and full buds.  I found from experience that once the blooms had faded no more would ever appear from the plant.  I now realize that gardenias require heat and constant sunshine.  They were doomed in suburban Philadelphia.  They thrive in California.  I have a plant on my terrace and the flowers keep appearing.  I usually snip them and place them in a bud vase I made.

The Azusa incense from Kyukyodo (the makers of the stellar Sho-ran-koh) emits a smoke not terribly different from the Auroshikha gardenia.  I could be completely wrong in my assessment - it has been over twenty years since I smelled the latter.  Azusa is certainly how I remember the Auroshikha gardenia incense.   Sweet, floral, creamy.  Azusa is perhaps a little richer, revealing a soft sandalwood note.

Azusa from Kyokyodo

I discovered a candle that also inhabits this beautiful territory between gardenia and tuberose called Mademoiselle de la Valliere from the Cire Trudon candlemakers.  Named after the mistress of Louis XIV, the scent is meant to evoke the 'damp fragrance of an intoxicating love: from the King's bedroom to the convent'.  Apparently Miss Valliere spent her latter years in a convent.  Not having experienced either a king's bedroom or a convent, the scent to me is that of adolescent awakening in the Garland of Letters shop on South Street, Philadelphia.  I haven't lit the candle yet - I was waiting for tonight, Thanksgiving evening.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

still-sound 18. Scorpio Sister

Today is my sister's birthday.  She lives in the Czech countryside where it is actually the day after her birthday. 

I remember once when we were very young she requested that we celebrate her birthday with mashed potato rather than birthday cake.  It was her favorite food back then - she didn't have a sweet tooth like me.  I don't remember if we omitted the birthday cake in favor of mashed potato.  It doesn't seem likely.  I hope she had mashed potato yesterday.

I took this picture a few days ago.  I've chosen it to wish Ann a happy birthday.

Friday, November 18, 2011

still-sound 17. UFO

This isn't a UFO.  I had hoped it was but even as I took the picture I knew it was just a cluster of balloons.

I always wanted to see a UFO.  Earlier this week I visited my mom in Arizona.  There was a famous UFO sighting there several years ago, some refer to it as the Phoenix Lights.  The accounts are remarkable.  A craft at least a mile long, shaped like a black triangle slowly hovered above the Earth without making a sound.  It had lights along the bottom that glowed a golden amber.  Some said that the lights seemed to 'impart knowledge'.  Is it any wonder why I want to see a UFO?

I seem to miss significant UFO sightings that I feel I should have witnessed.  The Phoenix Lights happened before my mom moved to Arizona so there's no chance I would have seen it myself although I regularly go to that area now.  I saw a TV dramatization of a sighting in Bucks County Pennsylvania, where I happened to have been born and grew up.  One account was particularly interesting.  A woman saw a craft flying over her backyard.  It released a mist of shimmering crystals (she called it glitter) which floated down like snow and covered a tree.  Several moments later the crystals rose from the tree and ascended back to the craft.  Of course things like this didn't happen in Bucks County when I lived there.

Yesterday morning I saw at least five helicopters flying above downtown LA.  They were there to monitor the Occupy Wall Street protests.  I'm not sure why there were five - surely the act of peacefully resisting a broken government and a culture controlled by greed doesn't require a militaristic-like presence.  The choppers gave the air a sensational feeling of criminality.  I expected to see OJ's SUV speeding past on the 110 Freeway.

Friday, November 11, 2011

still-sound 16. Akari

Today is 11.11.11.  The other day in the ceramics studio two fellow potters talked about various upcoming events to celebrate this alignment of ones.  They're both yoga instructors.  One mentioned a place near Joshua Tree - a perfectly-domed structure with incredible acoustics which will host a crystal bowl event today.  Attendees can sprawl out on the floor and bathe in the clear vibrations emanating from the crystal bowls.  Last year I was a little obsessed with this idea.  I regularly looked up 'bowl meditation' on youtube and tried to participate in the experiences from home. 

I made this vase a few months ago.  I dipped the greenware in black slip three times and created a tulip pattern.  I left it unglazed except for the inside  The pattern created by dipping reminded me of some of Isamu Noguchi's Akari lights.  I have a plain white lamp at home and placed the vase next to it for a while.  I liked the way they spoke with each other.  I eventually gave the tulip vase to my friend Adam.

Monday, November 7, 2011

still-sound 15. Chemtrails

I'm going to attribute most things to cold air today.

A few days ago I brought home some vases and bowls that had been glaze-fired over the weekend.  I placed two pieces on the bookcase in the bedroom.  Throughout the night they made pinging noises - as though someone struck them with a spoon to silence a hall before giving a toast to the bride and groom.  Except not rhythmic tapping, just a single PING.  It happened at least three times the other night - and at least once last night.  I checked the pieces to see if any of them developed cracks (they didn't).  I don't know which pieces are pinging, maybe all?  I decided that it was the shifting temperatures that caused the sounds.  Only a few days ago they were subject to terrific glass-melting heat.  Now they settle into the cold evening November air.

This morning I noticed that the sky was absolutely criss-crossed with chemtrails.  Some were sharp white lines, others had softened into puffier linear clouds. I've had many conversations with people about chemtrails.  On Tuesday my barber (Ian) showed me a picture he had taken on his phone of a massive X formed by chemtrails, hovering directly above his house.  It freaked him out.

I had a conversation a little while ago with a meteorologist.  She seemed to anticipate my eventual shift in conversation towards conspiracy theories.  She claimed that contrails were simply vapor left by aircraft as they cut through certain atmospheric conditions.  She assured me that there was no conspiracy at all and in fact, expressed doubt that the government would 'even be organized enough to control a population through chemical mists.'  I listened to her theory but lost trust in her credibility when she proclaimed that 'climate change is a myth' and that 'most scientists would agree'.  I didn't really want to pursue the point so I politely nodded.

While I walked Rosie this morning and noticed the unusually high incidence of chemtrails I decided that they could be attributed to the cold air.  I didn't notice them so much during the summer.  Today was the first day that truly felt like autumn to me.  The skies were the deep blue that you only really see this time of year.  I don't know if the chemtrails were more pronounced today because of the crisp air or if the government was simply more organized and managed to mist the skies of Los Angeles with population-controlling chemicals.

Olafur Eliasson at Tate Modern

When I got home I listened to Beck's superbly unsettling song called Chemtrails.  This has always been my favorite track on Modern Guilt.  The sound of it makes me think of a post-apocalyptic Beach Boys. I used to listen to it nearly every time I went running on the ocean path in Long Beach as the sun began to set.  I think of a hazy orange sun over a bleak terrain dotted with dazed people, like the one Olafur Eliasson created in an installation hosted in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern several years ago. 

'So many people, so many people.  Where do they go?

Friday, November 4, 2011

still-sound 14. Yamadamatsu

Yamadamatsu makes an interesting jinko incense called Kumoi Aloeswood.  The brand is not very well known in the US, in fact (the source of nearly all of my incense purchases) does not even have a Yamadamatsu tab on the website.  You can only find it by typing its name in the search box.  Jay and Shintaro were kind enough to throw in a sample of Kumoi when they shipped me another incense I had ordered.  My reaction to the sample was immediate and visceral.  The scent is dark, I'll even describe it as black.  I smell powder, but not the white, talcum variety.  I think of a fine powder like soot, only black, not gray. Its presence feels masculine to me.  The fragrance emitted from the smokestream is strong -permeating the room for a long while. The incense conjured a mental image of the charred wood traditionally used in Japanese building practice.

When I was a kid I spent most of the summers outside - running around with my sister and kids from the neighborhood.  We would jump through sprinklers in an effort to get cool - and we would only drink water directly from the hose.  The taste of hosewater is impossible for me to describe but unmistakably distinctive.  The Kumoi Aloeswood incense has a trace of summertime hosewater.  I remember thinking that the excellent Nan Kun by Shoyeido also featured the hosewater taste/smell.

Imagine long planks of hardwood burnt quickly with a tremendous blast and then extinguished with summertime hosewater; steam still rising from the char.  Despite my reference to summertime, Kumoi Aloeswood is resolutely autumnal. 

I burn these sticks in a holder made of cast iron.  I found it at OK, the best shop in Los Angeles.  The man who owns OK, Larry Schaffer, not only has an enormous sensitivity for design and craft but is a fount of knowledge regarding aloeswood and Japanese incense.