Noilly Prattle: April 2014

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Looking Back: 18 – on the brink of nuclear holocaust

     My time of active military service was due to end on my 21st birthday, December 26, 1962. I was on what was then called a “kiddie cruise”. The deal was if you enlisted in the US Navy (instead of being drafted into the Army) right out of high school, your obligated military service (normally six years) would be cut by however many months you had left in your 17th year. In my case I was able to lop about six months off since I enlisted in July and my birthday is in December. Instead of a full six years, my obligated military service (including inactive reserve status) was about 5½ years.

     Therefore, as we steamed back to Jacksonville in mid October, I was a “short timer” counting the days until I would be free to get back into civilian life. Shortly after docking in Mayport, however, the shit known as the Cuban Missile Crisis hit a rapidly whirring fan and the bad news hit me right between the eyes—an indefinite extension due to the rising hostilities between the US and the USSR over Soviet nuclear capable missiles being installed in Cuba. In historical retrospect this was a time of mounting paranoia and hysteria firmly anchored in Cold War mentality and foreign policy. At the time, however we thought we were staring into the face of Armageddon. The 13-day affair was an exercise in testosterone testing and posturing and eyeball-to-eyeball arm wrestling that had the distinct possibility of a disastrous nuclear exchange.

President Kennedy and Secretary of Defense
McNamara during the crisis
Jupiter IRBM
      The roots of the Cuban Missile Crisis go back to the 1917 Communist Revolution in Russia and the unbending opposition to any kind of socialistic philosophy or domestic policy on the part of the US government—our then bogeyman -ism, Communism. As a result of the defeat of Germany in the Second World War, Soviet Union emerged as a serious rival to the allied powers when Germany was divided into four administrative regions under the supervision of Great Britain, France, the United States and the Soviet Union. The US, seeking to contain Soviet expansion had placed Jupiter IRBM (intermediate-range ballistic missile) batteries in Turkey and Italy. The threat of mutually assured destruction (MAD) through a nuclear exchange kept the inhabitants of the planet sitting on the edge of their seats during the Cold War. 

U2 spy plane photo of Soviet missile installation in Cuba
      Events came to a head in 1962 that brought the world to the brink of a nuclear conflict. After the Bay of Pigs debacle in 1961, the Soviet Union decided to protect its client state under Fidel Castro from further similar incursions on Cuba by establishing a base capable of handling a nuclear deterrent aimed at the US similar to the US missile bases in Turkey and Italy. Learning of this base, the US dispatched a U-2 spy plane on October 14 and obtained hard pictorial evidence of its existence. This was the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis that ended on October 28 when the Soviets publicly agreed to dismantle their offensive weapons in return for a US pledge not to invade Cuba in the future. Secretly and privately, to save face, President Kennedy offered Nikita Khrushchev a quid pro quo by agreeing to dismantle the US missile bases in Turkey and Italy. Cooler heads and sanity prevailed that, according to some interpretations, would cost President Kennedy his life a year later.

A US Navy plane flying over a Soviet cargo ship
during the "quarantine" of Cuba
      Part of the crisis involved setting up a blockade (but called a “quarantine” since a blockade is considered an act of war) around Cuba to prevent Soviet ships from bringing in missiles and related hardware to Cuba. The Kaskaskia, an aging deep-draft, slow and clumsy oil tanker not designed for military confrontations was stationed on the quarantine. I remember what now seems an amusing fiasco in which the Kassy tried to catch up with and challenge a Soviet cargo ship, but was so slow and unwieldy as to be unable to even catch up with it, let alone challenge it. Fortunately, there were faster and more agile warships in the vicinity that were able to catch it and challenge it.

      The crisis, famously ending in 13 days, my indefinite extension was abrogated and I was released from active duty and returned to civilian life on December 17, 1962, and turned 21 a few days later on the 26th. I was free, no longer anyone to take orders from or tell me what to do and when to do it. Along with that freedom, however, came a new awareness, I was suddenly and for the first time, responsible for my own life—no more authority figures to do my thinking and make my decisions for me. Scary and sobering, but also full of exciting possibilities.

(Photos courtesy of Wikipedia)

To be continued... 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Junk Art

lighter airier Happiness tree
   Our Happiness tree was getting a little heavy looking with some browning at the tips of the older leaves.

       I decided to trim off some of the leaves to give the plant a lighter airier look.

       Then I realized that I had a large pile of still serviceable green leaves that it seemed a shame to just throw away.

       So I took and old vase and started to wind the leaves around the inside of the rim and eventually shaped them into a rough-looking ball. I then cut a few stems of red leaves from our Red Robin tree and tucked them into a small opening between the happiness leaves. 

       Voila, junk art. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cosmic Couple

Shiva and Parvatti 
The wild yamazakura (mountain cherry) 
outside our living room window
is in full bloom behind this wooden sculpture
of the Hindu God and Goddess
Shiva and Parvatti
done by a Balinese artist.

We bought it while on a motorcycle trip
around the Isle of Bali during our
honeymoon 30 odd years ago
in the town of Ubud.

It has stood the test of time 
exceptionally well.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hanami [花見]

     HANAMI [花見] is an annual rite of spring in Japan when the Japanese go out to look at their beloved  (sakura - cherry trees). Hanami literally means "looking at flowers", but it doesn't only mean looking. It is a time of family picnics under the cherry trees or friends' get-togethers to celebrate the reawakening of the earth and life with eating, drinking and singing karaoke in one cherry orchard or another. 

     The short life span of the cherry blossoms symbolizes the ephemerality of all life to the Japanese; accordingly they are beautiful but for a moment in time and they evoke a certain melancholy for how brief life is for all creatures. 

     Although winters are not excessively cold in southern Japan they are cold enough and long enough to make the coming of the cherry blossoms a very welcome sight, one that encourages the shedding of winter coats and getting out of the house in the brightening and greening and briefly pinking out of doors. 

     Japanese shrines and temples are almost always festooned with cherry trees which show off their beauty best in those surroundings of old wood and tiled or thatched roofs and well-tended precincts. One of our favorite shrine/temple complexes Kibitsu Shrine is only a half-hour drive away and we sometimes go there for walking exercise so it was great to combine walking and hanami recently. 

     But we don't really have to go very far from our house to look at the blooming spring. Just a half hour circuit around the house and down into the valley and up again presents the eye with a wealth of color. Consequently I've decided to post two groups of photos in one post: the first set is from the Kibitsu Shrine complex taken when the cherry blossoms were in their early stage of blooming; the second set taken during a neighborhood walk when the blossoms are already beginning to fall. 

Kibitsu Shrine 

wide overhanging eaves of Kibitsu Shrine
old stone lantern and old wood
red Camellia

hanging cherry tree

sakura, wood and roof  tiles

water wheel

a typical sight during cherry season

new branches and old lichen


Around the Hood

the hills are alive with the colors of spring

our red Robin and sakura tree
Nanohana (rape blossoms)

yours truly

our blue house


working in peach orchard

how green is my valley

high noon

foot path in the valley

steps to the valley walking path below our house

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Getting Reacquainted 9 – The Inland Sea – 瀬戸内海 [Setonaikai], Conclusion

     I have never heard a story of filial piety and devotion as striking as this one about the Reverend Kosanji Koso the founder of the Kosanji Temple on Ikuchi Island. The story of his devotion to his mother, not to mention her sumptuous home, would turn any mother emerald green with envy.

Rev. Kosanji Koso's Mom's mansion
Mom's dining room
Mom's garden

picnic in a quiet corner of Kosanji
       After getting off the Shimanami Highway onto a local road on Ikuchi Island we followed the coastal road around the southern end of the island to Setoda-cho, the town in which Kosanji Temple is located. We had been unable to find any convenience stores in the smaller villages and I was craving some junk food after a fairly steady diet of how-many-ways-can-you-prepare fish that is typical in Japanese inns since Japan is mostly surrounded by water one way or another. Setoda-cho was big enough to have a few convenience stores so we stopped at the nearest one and I bought a sandwich and a bag of potato chips and Road Buddy bought an onigiri (riceball that is a popular snack food here) and a bottle of coffee and headed for the temple where we planned to have a picnic. We found some free parking at a local municipal meeting hall near Kosanji, parked and headed for the temple on foot.

entrance gate to Kosanji
       My first “WOW” moment came when I saw the colorful, almost garish, gate to the temple precinct. Entering the gate and paying an entrance fee led to a continuing series of WOW moments, not the least of which is the story of the Reverend Kosanji Koso. Before becoming a Buddhist priest he was a successful and wealthy businessman. He first built a mansion (above) for his mother in gratitude for her “loving care throughout the hardships of his life." After she died he became a Buddhist priest and built the Kosanji Temple over the next 30 years. According to the brochure the “whole temple is … a materialization of [his] gratitude to his deceased mother. In a way, this is a 'Pure Land of his gratitude' and a 'temple dedicated to his mother'.”  Greater love for his mother, indeed, hath no man...

entrance gate from inside the temple precinct
vermilion color predominates everywhere

five-step pagoda 

the containers will soon be filled with lotus blossoms

giant statue of Kannon, a Buddhist deity

octagonal building is a copy of a structure 
at the Horyuji Temple in Nara, Japan

intricately carved gate is a copy of one in Nikko, Japan

[abandon all hope ye who enter here!]
       As we were strolling around the temple we came across a cave-like opening that Road Buddy told me (my own ability to read Japanese is limited) was the entrance to Hell. Having recently reread Dante's Divine Comedy, the banner “Abandon all hope ye who enter here” above to entrance to the Inferno was still fresh in my mind, so of course, I had to risk abandoning all hope [我門を過ぎる者、一切の希望を捨てよ!] and we walked into Buddhist Hell. Road Buddy felt uneasy and went back to the upper world of air and sunshine but I, undaunted, ventured deeper into the cave. It was dimly lit with bas-relief panels affixed to the wall in quite garish colors and illustrations of the various punishments inflicted on those unfortunate enough to go there after death. It reminded me very much of the punishments Dante inflicts on the various people he felt deserved to roast in hell forever. I guess hell is hell no matter what your religious affiliations are!

scenes remarkably reminiscent of ....

... those in Dante's Inferno section of  The Divine Comedy

walking paths of Carrara marble
looks like a scene from the Aegean Sea
       Adjacent to the Kosanji Temple is the remarkable Miraishin no Oka garden (a somewhat fanciful translation yields “Heights of Eternal Hope for the Future”--a direct translation reads “Hill of Future Spirit”). It covers 5000m² made entirely of white marble that was shipped stone by stone in container ships from the marble quarries of Carrara, Italy and installed by Japanese sculptor Kazuto Kuetani. It is composed of abstract sculptures and geometric shapes strewn hither and yon and connected by plazas and footpaths composed entirely of white marble. Photos don't do it justice, you have to see it, walk on it and touch it to get an idea of what it's like. 

overall view gives a surreal abstract effect - like something out of Pablo Picasso