Noilly Prattle: November 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

la butte Montmartre

Charles Aznavour - La Bohème

      This beautiful song by Charles Aznavour captures the romantic image of the poor and starving artist on the little hill known as la butte Montmartre in the popular imagination. It's a somewhat sad and wistful song of a man in his late 60s looking back on a Parisian neighborhood that is no more and probably, except in his fond memories of youth, never was. 

      Probably the rents in Montmartre are way to high for starving artists to afford these days, and they may have moved to squats down in the Marais, or maybe Montparnasse,  but the little hill with its crowning glory of Sacre Coeur is still worth a picture or two, I'd say. Here are a few rather immodest examples:

crèperie called Le Tire Bouchon (the pull the cork)
Restaurant Le Consulat
Basilica of the Sacred Heart 

Moulin de la Galette

Other renditions of gatherings at the Moulin de la Galette:

Renoir - 1876

Toulouse-Lautrec - 1889

Picasso - 1900

Monday, November 10, 2014

Getting Reacquainted 14 – The Hidden Hovel Temple

     There are several expressions for “wife” in Japanese. A couple of them indicate her lowly, second-class status in relation to the family and her place in it. The man of the family is the 主人 [shujin] the master or lord of the house. But the wife of the master doesn't have a human designation. She is the 家内 [kanai], which simply means inside the house. She is commonly addressed as 奥さん[okusan], which means, loosely, honorable hidden in the back person.

Okunoin - main temple
        My purpose here is not to denigrate women, but to point out some peculiarities of language interfacing. Road Buddy, my honorable hidden in the back person, were having one of our intercultural discussions while hiking around yet another shrine/temple complex near our home named Okunoin, 奥之院. It is the inner sanctuary of the main temple down in the valley. Yet it sits on the summit of 龍王山 [Ryuozan] (Dragon King Mountain). You may remember the “Great Luck Dragon King” Shrine in a previous post. Well, same Dragon King, same area.

        You may not have noticed the same Chinese Character [oku] in both the word for 奥さん [honorable hidden in the back person] and 奥之院 [Okunoin] which can be translated as [less exalted, hidden in the back, temple/shrine complex] or, as my title suggests The Hidden Hovel Temple.

        Okunoin is, in fact, anything but a hovel. It is part of a larger conglomerate of Nichiren-shu (a Buddhist sect) shrines and temples in the area. It stands on the summit of a mountain with an excellent view of the city of Okayama (below) off in the blue hazy distance. Framed by the colors of Autumn (right) the vista is impressive.

the city of Okayama from Ryuozan  - (Dragon King Mountain)

Namu Myoho Renge Kyo -- 南無妙法蓮華経

the Namu Myoho ...on the left...
        The most impressive aspect of Okunoin is the myriad of rocks and stones inscribed with the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren-shu encourages its adherents to recite a mantra from the Lotus Sutra daily. I first noticed the same inscription on many rocks on a recent visit to another Nichiren-shu temple, Ryuzenji, and asked Road Buddy what it meant. To my surprise she recited the mantra [Namu Myoho Renge Kyo] 南無妙法蓮華経 (fancifully inscribed on the rocks) from memory.

...all around...
        It can't be precisely defined in words but I gather it encompasses the essence of enlightenment as taught by the Buddha. Chanting the mantra is hypnotic and perhaps can put one in a meditative frame of mind when repeated over and over. 

...all alone....

        Strolling around Okunoin with the seemingly hundreds of rocks inscribed with the Lotus Sutra feels like a visual chanting of the mantra so that you could almost meditatively levitate right off the mountain top and float over the hills and valleys below.

...and fanciful!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Getting Reacquainted 13 – The Temple of the Dragon Waterfall

     There is a seasonal element to many things Japanese—especially art forms. You will find seasonal words in haiku poems:

A dirt road on foot,
a fine golden afternoon,
backlit pampas grass.

In this example “pampas grass” imparts a feeling of autumn. Similarly, Ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement) expresses a seasonal mood in the materials chosen. In this example the persimmons indicate, as the pampas grass in the haiku, that the season is, again, autumn.

          There is a temple in the mountains not far from our home that we often drive by on the way to someplace else. You seem to miss so many wonderful things on the way to “someplace else”. Since we enjoy walking in natural settings—well, semi-natural settings to be more exact—we decided to try hiking on the mountain trails near the Temple of the Dragon Waterfall. It sounds more concise and poetic in Japanese – RYUSENJI [龍泉寺], and the kanji for dragon:

would make a great tattoo.

Falcor, the luck dragon 
        Unlike the Western tradition, dragons are not forces for evil in the East. Here, they are more like Falcor, the “luck dragon”, in Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story and symbolize benevolence and good fortune. Accordingly, we have a temple and its adjacent shrine dedicated to dragons. Working in tandem they are designed to ensure a good rice crop and harvest. The temple is called RYUSENJI [龍泉寺], The Temple of the Dragon Waterfall; the shrine is called HACHIDAIRYUO [八大龍王], Great Luck Dragon King.

Ryusenji - main temple
       Ryusenji is a particularly lovely specimen of the temple type. The main temple sits on a sunny hilltop. However, as its name implies, there is a misty/shadowy rock chasm that contains the dragon waterfall used for “misogi” (ritual purification) by Buddhist monks. Lest you imagine something majestic like Niagara or Victoria Falls let me prick your bubble before descending into the grotto. The waterfall is piped in and emerges through a kind of dragon-like faucet and drops to the rock floor of the grotto. Nevertheless, in spite of the slight kitchyness of the contraption, the grotto possesses a kind of spirituality conducive to meditation and cleansing of the spirit. It must be especially challenging in the winter, though.

unusual dragon motif in roof decoration
dragon waterfall - more like a spout
the grotto
Buddhist monk doing "misogi" 

earthen dam and  HACHIDAIRYUO [八大龍王Shrine

       The complex contains a large pond created by an earthen dam which you can walk around on a dirt road used for service vehicles. It’s about two kilometers to circumnavigate the pond and a fairly easy hike with easily doable ups and downs. The road winds close to the contours of the pond and is very scenic, especially on a sunny fall day.

Jizo (guardian spirits)

       While walking along, my eye was struck by the singular vision of hundreds of statues of “Jizos” (a kind of protective spirit like a guardian angel) all lined up in orderly rows and columns, some wearing red bibs. According to Road Buddy these spirits absorb your bad karma and release you from it. Actually, it’s a pretty amusing sight. I couldn’t resist an irreverent photo or two. I guess I’ll burn in one of the several Buddhist purgatories for that little indiscretion, but should eventually achieve Nirvana.

the Sanskrit Mantra rock
       The road soon leads to the Great Luck Dragon King [Hachi dai ryu o] shrine associated with the temple. The pond is very prettily framed by a newish style bright vermilion torii gate from inside the shrine precinct, which, basically, consists of a very large rock with a Buddhist Sanskrit mantra (Namu Myoho Renge Kyo) inscribed in kanji characters. This same mantra is visible on many of the rocks in the Ryusenji complex. Translating from the Sanskrit it says: "I honor the Universal Mystical Law of Cause and Effect."

       I can abide with that; The Temple of the Dragon Waterfall complex is a pretty mystical place.