Tag Archives: haiku

Z- Shibata Zeshin, Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to Z…the very last day of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge. As you may be aware, my theme for 2018 is Writing Letters to Dead Artists and the last artist I’ll be writing to during the challenge, is Japanese artist Shibata Zeshin (1801-1891).

During this series, I’ve revealed a raw honesty which is somewhat of a personal trademark. So, I’m undermine that by pretending  that I understand Shibata Zeshin, and know everything there is to know about him. Indeed, after so many very late nights and burning the post-midnight oil, I was even prepared to be creative…a dead artist who was snoring Z’s perhaps…

However, thank goodness for my Google lucky dips, because I not only found Shibata Zeshin but I very bravely dipped my toe into the very tip of the Japanese art “iceberg”. Personally, I find it a bit intimidating tapping into Japanese art. Their culture is much more structured than what I’m used to which many rules and an exquisite attention to detail which in itself is totally foreign to me. Moreover, as an aspiring perfectionist, there’s only one thing I hate making mistakes and try to fill myself up with so much knowledge and detail that I couldn’t possibly slip up and get something wrong, especially mucking up something as important as a historical detail. People have been hung, drawn and quartered for less.

Yet, it is far better to get up and have a go and do something. To extend yourself beyond the safe and the familiar than it is to stay within your comfort zone and go nowhere. I keep reminding myself of this, but quite often these processes are quite unconscious and our lives are that busy, that we can easily move onto something else and that covers up our avoidance. I guess this is where going public with your ambitions is important. There’s always someone who’ll ask you how that book you abandoned a few years ago and consigned to the bottom drawer is going. One of these days, I’d at least like to tell them that something got published. Anything! I’m not fussy anymore. Indeed, am rapidly sliding towards desperate, which as any single out in the dating scene knows, is never a good thing.

Anyway, here goes…

Shibata Zeshin was born and raised in Edo (modern-day Tokyo). His grandfather Izumi Chobei and his father Ichigoro were shrine carpenters (miyadaiku) and skilled wood carvers. His father, who had taken his wife’s family name of Shibata, was also an experienced ukiyo-e painter, having studied under Katsukawa Shunshō. At age eleven, Kametaro, as Zeshin was called in his childhood, became apprenticed to a lacquerer named Koma Kansai II. At age 13, the young man who would become Zeshin abandoned the name Kametaro and became Junzo. Koma Kansai decided that his young charge would need to learn to sketch, paint, and create original designs in order to become a great lacquerer. He arranged for young Shibata to study under Suzuki Nanrei, a great painter of the Shijō school. Shibata then took on yet another artist’s name, abandoning Junzo and signing his works “Reisai,” using the Rei from Suzuki Nanrei, and the sai from Koma Kansai.

It was during his time with Nanrei that he was given the name Zeshin, which he would stick with for the rest of his life. The name has a meaning similar to “this is true” or “the Truth”. It was a reference to an old Chinese tale of a king who held an audience with a great number of painters. While nearly all of the painters afforded the king the proper respect, bowing before him and comporting themselves appropriately, one arrived half-naked, did not bow, and sat on the floor licking his paintbrush; the king exclaimed “now, this is a true artist!” And from this the name Zeshin was taken[1]. That story really amused me.

Shibata Zeshin (1807–1891) was the greatest of all lacquer artists. His unique talent was hewn from a childhood spent in traditional artisan workshops, a strong respect and devotion to tradition, and a constant thirst for innovation and self-education. His career saw the transition of Japan from the Edo (samurai) period to the Meiji era, when the nation, united under a semi-constitutional monarchy, set about an ambitious modernization process that would rapidly develop the country into a world power.

Zeshin took full advantage of these abrupt changes. A shogunal decree restricting artists’ use of precious metals, materials considered essential to lacquer work, led Zeshin to instead employ bronze dust, charcoal, and iron filings to create novel, eye-teasing effects. One of very few lacquerers granted the title of Artist to the Imperial Household, he later embraced the emergence of Japan on the world stage, exhibiting his work at international expositions and developing new ways to push the boundaries of lacquer to rival Western oil paintings. It was during this period that Zeshin created a series of masterpieces in lacquered wood, lacquer painting, and conventional ink painting on paper or silk that attracted numerous prominent clients and made him one of the first living Japanese artists to achieve name recognition in Europe and the United States. Yet he remained at heart a proud member of Japan’s urban artisan class, and his art is emblematic of his extraordinary ability to combine two conflicting roles in a time of national upheaval[2].

Through his depictions of nature, Zeshin has elevated the simple into something truly magnificent, and almost had an ethereal sense. Indeed, he’s immortalised his fleeting glimpses of nature and his works have that real sense of being in the moment, or even inside it, where time doesn’t even exist and the observer and the subject are one. Moreover, he also brings out the spirit of the subject.

grasshopper-and-sunflower-1877

This brings me to Zeshin’s Grasshopper & Sunflower 1877. While the sunflower immediately caught my eye and the grasshopper was more of a distraction or something to be shoed away, this is not my culture and my gut told me this grasshopper was there for a reason That is, one other than hiding from some kid madly chasing it with their Bug Catcher. Oops! That’s right. They didn’t have Bug Catchers back in 1877, but I’m sure someone or something was trying to catch it in their own way, even if it was just the artist with his brush. Anyway, that’s how I found out that the Japanese see the grasshopper as a symbol of good luck and have a long tradition of enjoying their beautiful calls, both in the wild and as pets. Indeed, grasshoppers also appeared in Haiku:

Grasshopper’s song in

moonlight- someone’s

survived theflood.

Issa

Yet, as I said, I was drawn to the sunflower, not the grasshopper.

“I don’t think there’s anything on this planet that more trumpets life that the sunflower. For me that’s because of the reason behind its name. Not because it looks like the sun but because it follows the sun. During the course of the day, the head tracks the journey of the sun across the sky. A satellite dish for sunshine. Wherever light is, no matter how weak, these flowers will find it. And that’s such an admirable thing. And such a lesson in life.”
― Helen Mirren, Actor

Van Gogh Sunflowers

Why pay millions, when you can pick one up at the local thrift shop…

If you’ve been following the series through, you may recall that I have a very strong attachment to Van Gogh’s Sunflower Series. Indeed, I have a print of the London version hanging in our hallway, and have also seen the Amsterdam version in person and experienced the sunflowers dancing right in front of me. Back at university, I also recited my “sunflower” poem at readings, and it became a bit of a connection with the person I wrote it about. So, just like Van Gogh, I felt like the sunflower was mine.

In Japanese, the sunflower is called Himari, it is very popular in Japan and even has its own festival in Zama city, Kanagawa prefecture where farmers plant sunflowers as a fill in crop after the wheat harvest to avoid undesirable weeds proliferating in the fields. Presumably the farmers also harvest and sell the sunflower seeds.

However, the sunflower isn’t just an eye-catching beauty. As well as providing a harvest of seeds, sunflowers also reduce toxins in the soil through a process called phytoremediation. The sunflower sucks up toxins like lead, arsenic and uranium, which are sucked up by the roots and after a few generations, the soil can be returned to forests. Indeed, through the Chernobyl Sunflower Project, sunflowers were used to clean up the radioactive waste in the plant’s cooling pond. Japan has followed their lead with the Fukushima Sunflower project to remove radioactive waste after the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster.

Personally, I find this very exciting. While I don’t lie awake worrying about the fallout from these disasters, you only have to switch on the news to be very concerned about the state of our planet and a natural solution like this is absolutely fantastic. Bring it on.

The only question I have is…Do you think we could possibly plant sunflowers inside the brains of society’s bad eggs, and decontaminate them? Indeed, this process could also be used to treat depression? Hey, I just thought of a third possible application….plant sunflowers in the brains of teenagers and they’ll start turning to the sun all day, instead of their electronics. Much better for them!

Sunflowers, therefore, have their healing powers and there was perhaps no greater psychological need, than when Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down in the Ukraine and the plane just happened to crash in a field of sunflowers, who incidentally turned their faces away from the horror. Everyone onboard was killed and the twisted and broken wreckage reflected the heartbreak and brokenness of their loved ones and mourners the world over. You might not be aware that the Sydney Morning Herald’s Paul McGeough, Foreign Correspondent and photographer, Kate Gerraghty, salvaged sunflower seeds from the scene and brought them back via quarantine for the families and friends of the victims. Paul McGeogh writes: “we had decided that if families and friends of the Australian victims could not get to the crash site, then we were obliged to bring them a keepsake. First we wondered about a small quantity of soil, which might be carried in a locket. But we settled on seeds – they would be lighter, more compact and, with careful gardening, might be propagated from year to year. It would help too, we thought, that sunflowers are such happy chaps.[3]

Sunflower letter

Sunflower seeds from the Ukraine

It’s a long story but I received some of these seeds in the mail and planted them in our backyard. I also took the seedlings into my kids’ classes at school and beyond and talking about what these photographers did to make a difference. My only hope is that these seeds grew and the sunflowers’s smiles and their special phytoremediation abilities somehow managed to ease their grief.

However, it just so happened that the plane landed in a field of sunflowers and I guess these beautiful, vibrant flowers can to represent good triumphing over evil and hate, as well as a hope for the future when for the families who lost their precious loved ones, they were plunged  not only into unfathomable grief, but also a burning sense of injustice. A need to see terrorism, war and violence wiped off the face of the earth. Or, at the very least, from underneath the flight paths of passenger jets.

Two Carp

Shibata Zeshin, Two Carp.

 “The orange of the golden carp appeared at the edge of the pond. . . . We watched in silence at the beauty and grandeur of the great fish. Out of the corners of my eyes I saw Cico hold his hand to his breast as the golden carp glided by. Then with a switch of his powerful tail the golden carp disappeared into the shadowy water under the thicket.”
Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima

Returning to environmental disasters, as much as I really admired Shibato Zeshin’s carp, as an Australian, I find it very hard to like carp anymore after they’ve taken over many Australian waterways and are killing our native fish. It’s been a huge problem for quite awhile, especially in the Murray River. However, there are plans to release a virulent strain of herpes virus into the Murray-Darling river system in a bid to eradicate European carp, in what Science Minister Christopher Pyne has dubbed a “carp-aggedon”.

So after staring at the sunflowers, chasing grasshoppers and trying to keep the carp out of our river systems, I’d better start writing my letter to Shibata Zeshin.

My Letter to Shibata Zeshin

Dear Shibata,

The obvious thing to ask anyone whose name starts with Z, is whether they’re always sick of being last and always at the end of the alphabet? Most humans are very stuck in their ways and for some reason organizing things in reverse alphabetical order is too difficult. I’m not sure whether they think they’re some very complex and difficult mathematical equation involved, or if they’re just lazy. Of course, I could understand why a librarian wouldn’t want to rearrange an entire library just to give the Z authors a better chance of being chosen, but is doesn’t take much to rearrange a classroom of kids. Mind you, I guess that would set the teachers brain in reverse, which could be dangerous, especially if they started walking backwards. Best we leave things just the way they are, before we have any nasty accidents and next time you decide to change your name, might I suggest you go for Aardvark. It’s very popular in the telephone book.

However, I’m not writing to you to discuss the alphabet, other than to apologise for getting to you so late in the peace and you’ll only have one day to join us on the journey, where we’ve been visiting Dead Artists from A-Z. Quite a few of these artists were influenced by Japanese art, so even though you stuck to more of a traditional Japanese style yourself, you might find it interesting to see how it’s been applied over in Europe by the likes of Edgar Degas and Van Gogh. By the way, you and Van Gogh are both into sunflowers in a big way, and they could be the start of a great friendship. Van Gogh was trying to set up an artists community in Arles in the South of France so maybe you could both join up with Gauguin and set something up near a dazzling field of sunflowers. Indeed, you might want to visit the festival in Zama city, Kanagawa prefecture. They have 30 different species of sunflower so you’re bound to find at least one which inspires you.

“I write, erase, rewrite,
Erase again, and then
A poppy blooms”

Issa

Focus, Rowena. Focus.

Thank goodness Issa whispered in my ear again…

“A world of dew,
And within every drewdrop
A world of struggle”

Shibata, I wanted to ask you why there is so much struggle, tragedy and heartache in our world. So many of the artists in this series have suffered enormous grief, sometimes through the loved ones they’ve tragically or prematurely lost, but many have also experienced a grief, a sadness, an inner torment which is simply the storm within. I know and understand that we can’t be happy all the time and that we need the interaction between misery and joy, happiness and sorrow to be able to experience joy much more intensely, but why does growth have to hurt so much?

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter From Shibata Zeshin.

Dear Rowena,

The weight of the world isn’t on your shoulders, Rowena. It is carried by the cranes. Leave them to it.

I’m not sure if anyone’s immune to suffering. But the world is also overflowing with such beauty. When your heart is heavy, turn your eyes outward and see creation all around you. Don’t let it slip through your fingertips. Yet, don’t hold onto it too tightly either or your destroy it. Simply hold it in the palm of your hand. Or, watch it through that camera lens of yours and absorb each and every particle until you’re one.

Many people used to tell me I did things my own way, which is why they called me “Zeshin” and it stuck. Do you really think there could be a way of planting sunflowers in people’s heads? Technology is so advanced in your world, anything’s possible. I just heard Van Gogh asking Gauguin to “Beam me up, Scotty” and he disappeared. I’m going next.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with another Haiku…

With dewdrops dripping,

I wish somehow I could wash

this perishing world

Basho

Best wishes,

Shibata Zeshin.

mouse Zeshin

 

References & Links

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shibata_Zeshin

[2] http://artdaily.com/news/22655/Genius-of-Japanese-Lacquer–Masterworks-by-Shibata-Zeshin#.WucHPZdlNhE

[3] https://www.smh.com.au/interactive/2015/planting-hope/

 

 

An Ant’s Road Through the Roses.

the ants’ road
from peaks of clouds
to here.

Issa

When I saw this luscious red rose, I immediately metamorphosed into an ant crawling through it’s mountainous red petals until it finally reached all those golden pollen at the centre of the universe and slept.

Come to think of it, do ants actually sleep? Have you ever seen an ant taking a nap?

Just a thought…

xx Rowena

I-Issa Haiku Master: A Reply #atozchallenge..

When I first started writing Letters to Dead Poets for the A-Z Challenge, I never expected a reply…not even in my quirkiest, wildest imaginings.

Yet, I’ve received replies on silver trays, in glass bottles at the beach and on Saturday, I received my reply from Issa before I’d even finalised and posted his letter. I’ve grown used to expecting surprises from the muse, who is usually several steps ahead of my laboured footsteps. However, this was very pre-emptive. Moreover, this is the first reply I’ve received via a living poet and it certainly wasn’t via a direct route either!

DSC_0895

Pictured with Thomas & Meg Keneally.

On Saturday, I attended a literary luncheon with Thomas & Meg Keneally discussing their new  Monsarrat Series of novels. While you might not know Thomas Keneally by name beyond Australia, he wrote Schindler’s Ark which became Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. Meg is his daughter. Although she’s been a successful journalist for many years, this is her first published novel, written in collaboration with her Dad…very much a joint effort!

Anyway, I spotted a familiar face in the crowd but couldn’t place her. Afterwards, she introduced herself as  Beverley George. Ah ha! I’d met Beverley last year when I attended a local writers and illustrators’ forum. Beverley was President of the Australian Haiku Society from 2006-2010. Indeed, Beverley’s Haiku have been translated into Japanese, which I view as being the ultimate acknowledgement for a modern Haiku writer, although I could be wrong.

Anyway, Beverley passed on this message from Issa when we spoke after the lunch:

Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house
casually.

Issa

Although I’d expected Beverley to be at the lunch, it was brilliant timing. Imagine running into such a Haiku expert when you’re only just starting out! Moreover, you might recall I was looking for a translator so Issa and I could understand each other better. I doubt I could find anyone better. Beverley has written extensively about Haiku and other forms of Japanese poetry. Indeed, you can read an interview with her here.

By the way, in case you’re wondering about the relevance of this Haiku to me personally, maintaining the house is quite a struggle when I’m in “writing mode”. Yet, as much as I long to submit myself entirely to the muse and her passionate flights of fancy, the house or family always comes calling. I can’t find that book I need to resource. The kids wonder away from the their electronics bleating: “I’m hungry!” It’s hard to snatch away a moment’s peace, which is, of course, a common lament among writers!

Mind you, there was one scenario involving housework and spiders where I wasn’t so casual. That was when my son arrived home from the Australian Scouting Jamboree and a warning was issued to all parents. Potentially deadly Funnel Web Spiders had been found in two backpacks on return and we were advised to use “extreme caution” when emptying their bags. As soon as my found found out, he lugged his backpack out of his room and dumped it at my feet. As if I look like some crazed spider catcher/killer!! I’m just the taxi driver.

Do you have a favourite Haiku by Issa?

By the way, I also came across this one on my travels today:

Look, don’t kill that fly!
It is making a prayer to you
By rubbing its hands and feet.

Issa

Will the inspiration ever end? I sure hope not and the house better not start praying for the well to dry up! While I haven’t exactly been vigilant, I have been nibbling around the edge.

xx Rowena

Here’s a link through to my previous Letters to Dead Poets A-H.

I- A Letter to Issa-Haiku Master..

Dear Issa,

Something tells me, that if we met in person, we wouldn’t need words. That our eyes would meet, sparking an understanding transcending language. Indeed, that is my hope.

However, that meeting has to wait.

This leaves us relying on the frailty of the written word, communicating across differences in language, culture, gender and time. While these differences are challenging, they’re not insurmountable when we walk hand-in-hand appreciating difference while also finding common ground. Through mutual respect and patience, I suspect our words will somehow translate themselves, like birds interpreting each others’ song.

I am currently writing letters to dead poets. After coming across your haiku, I decided to write to you. You suffered so much and yet you expressed such an incredible appreciation of life as well as an understanding of something intangible which defies words. Indeed, must we endure extreme suffering to gain that heightened sense of perception, which peers straight through the lines and beyond? Something tells me I already know the answer.

You and I are fellow travellers. You travelled throughout Japan writing Haiku as you went and teaching others. In 1992, I donned my backpack and flew to Europe, staying there for around 9 months. Much of that time, I lived in Heidelberg with a German family. However, I also travelled through Paris, Berlin, London Amsterdam, Florence, Basil and many cities in between. While there can be great freedom being a rolling stone gathering no moss, there can also be free-fall.

You’d be surprised how people travel these days. I have absolutely no idea how to explain Skype to someone who lived so long ago. However, in what must seem like something of a dream, you can see and talk to people in other places. So when you travel, you no longer have that same acute sense of isolation and detachment and there’s always the umbilical cord tying you back home.  These technical advances in communication have made such a difference. When I went to Europe, it was very expensive to telephone home and the Internet and email didn’t exist. So, we wrote letters, no doubt very similar to how you communicated back in your day. These days, letter writing is almost a forgotten art.

Travelling without a cost-effective means of staying in touch, meant that you had to stand on your own two feet and was a challenging test of endurance. I went from university where I knew so many people, to being a lone traveller. Periods of solitude were incredibly difficult, especially with no one knowing me, my history or where I was from. There was such a pining ache and I was so homesick. Even just a week into my travels, I burst into tears at Heidelberg train station and wanted to go home. Yet, I also had my pride. I am so pleased I stuck it out because through immersing myself in all these foreign countries, their language, people and culture, I flew beyond my nest and explored the world. Of course, the sky was filled with dangers, especially for such a little bird. Yet, there was also the view, the sensation of freedom and an appreciation of all that is “home”. I also made life-long friends. After all, living with a family and staying in one place, I found community. That’s still incredibly important to me!

Perhaps the greatest joy of travelling, is reveling in foreign cultures, people and places, immersing ourselves in a kaleidoscope of difference. Indeed, shunning conformity, the traveller actually seeks out and embraces difference. Yet, while being the lone stranger wandering through strange cities and towns, we can be the outsider, the observer, peering in through a crack in the wall. Loneliness, solitude and homesickness, can be the traveller’s lot. Yet, being away from home and its expectations and responsibilities, liberates us as well. Party! Party! Party!  Nothing like a holiday romance either!

Anyway, like English poet, Ted Hughes, I only met you recently and am new to the form of Haiku. While there are people who know you and your Haiku, inside out, I am keen to learn.

Recently, my son reintroduced me to Haiku when he had to write them for school. So, we talked about Haiku over dinner and even wrote a couple.

Being Summer here yet Winter in the Northern hemisphere, mine went:

Eternal Summer

Sunbaking on the beach

Snow is falling.

The rest of the family found my combination of snow and the beach too random and my husband joked:

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

Look! There’s a kookaburra!

-Geoff.

Although it’s not strictly a Haiku, it had the family in hysterics!

Then our son came up with:

Roses can’t be blue.

Violets come in all colours.

But then there is you.

-Mr J.

Through these conversations, I came across your Haiku about a humble snail climbing Mt Fuji:

O snail

Climb Mount Fuji,

But slowly, slowly!

-Issa

Issa-snail

Wow! I related to this Haiku so intensely and couldn’t help wondering, if a tiny snail could make it up Mt Fuji, so could I…

Ever since I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease where my muscles attack themselves, I’ve felt compelled to climb up a mountain. It’s like the mountains are calling me, luring me up their steep and rocky crevices like the call of the wild. However, just because I have a disability, that doesn’t mean I can suddenly climb Mt Everest. I know that probably doesn’t make sense but it seems so many people facing series hurdles, go and climb mountains. Everest is way beyond me!

Rowena skiing downhill Fri

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

However, being quite the lateral thinker, I skied down the mountain instead, in effect, turning my mountain around. That was my personal triumph!

By the way, did you know that when you turn a mountain upside down, you get a smile. Well, it works on paper!

Not so easy in real life. Before I’d even left the snow, I had the makings of a chest infection, which turned into pneumonia. Tests showed that I had active fibrosis in my lungs and I needed to have chemo. This was right before Christmas 2014, so I had chemo for Christmas! However, that was the best present I’ve ever had. It saved my life and gave me back to my family. That’s all that really matters now. That we’re all still here!

Getting back to your Haiku, I was so moved by it, that I shared it with my family. I particularly wanted the kids to realise that even huge mountain peaks can be conquered when you take them slowly one step at a time.

I thought you’d be intrigued by my daughter’s reply:

“How does the snail climb Mt Fuji if there’s snow? It wouldn’t stick!”

She’s very good at asking the tough questions!

Does Mt Fuji have snow all year round? Mind you, given the crowds climbing to the summit during climbing season these days, the snail could probably hitch a ride, although those very same feet could easily means its demise. That said, I know hitching a ride wasn’t what you had in mind…cheating!

Climbing straight up metaphorical mountains is something you know a lot about. You have certainly experienced much anguish! When you were 3 years old, your mother died and your father remarried. In 1814, aged 52 you married Kiku. However, joy was short-lived. Two years later, your son, Sentarô, was born, dying almost four weeks later. Two years later, your daughter, Sato, was born. However, she tragically died when she was just over a year old from smallpox.  A year later, your second son, Ishitarô, is born. However, tragedy continued when Ishitarô suffocated while bundled on his mother’s back. He was only a few months old. In 1822, your third son, Konzaburô, was born. In 1823, your wife died and Konzaburô died in December. In 1824, aged 62, you married Yuki, a samurai’s daughter but you soon divorced. Then, you had a stroke, losing his power of speech for a while. Indeed, you wrote:

how irritating!
the wild geese freely
call their friends

-Issa

In 1826, aged 64, you married Yao but a year later, a fire sweeps through your village, destroying your home. How awful!

After enduring so much, on 5th January, 1828, you died of a stroke.

You experienced anguish on top of anguish and yet you went on, finding beauty in the infinitesimal details in nature:

Don’t weep, insects –
Lovers, stars themselves,
Must part.

-Issa

Was that what kept you going? Or, do you even know?

So many us are desperately wanting to know!

I hope that you have found happiness and peace where you are now.

Yours sincerely,

Rowena

Featured Image: Issa’s portrait drawn by Muramatsu Shunpo 1772-1858 (Issa Memorial Hall, Shinano, Nagano, Japan) Photo By Yoshi Canopus – Own work (My own photo), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=768109

Snailing Up the Mountain.

O snail

Climb Mount Fuji,

But slowly, slowly!

-Issa

Yesterday, I felt the entire universe quake when I discovered  this incredible Haiku. Of course, I am not alone in my response. This Haiku is widely known in Haiku circles. However, that doesn’t stop me from feeling that Issa wrote it just for me. That despite living long before my time, he knew me so intimately that he actually heard the silent cry in my heart.

Ever since I developed a muscle-wasting auto-immune disease ten years ago, I’ve felt the need to climb a mountain. After all, isn’t this what everybody does after they face a serious setback? Of course! Naturally, I never felt this compulsion when I was capable. That said, I have climbed Australia’s tallest peak, the Mount Kosciuszko which at  2,228 m barely scratches Everest’s knees.It’s not what I consider a serious challenge, even though I couldn’t do it now.

Given my disability and other interests, I put my mountain climbing dreams long ago and instead, turned my energies towards a more achievable challenge…skiing down the mountain, which I achieved in 2013.

Anyway, tonight over dinner I decided to share the snail Haiku with the rest of the family. Indeed I couldn’t wait. When something hits you straight between the eyes like that, it’s hard to concede that anyone could interpret it any differently. Surely, they would be equally blown away and appreciate how slow and steady can get you over the mountain…be it physical, psychological or spiritual.

However I’d forgotten that the kids had studied Japan at school and might have their own perspectives.

My daughter, who has a long history of asking difficult and lateral questions, didn’t disappoint.After I’d finished reading the Haiku, she asked:

“How does the snail climb up Mt Fuji if there’s snow? It wouldn’t stick.”

Of course, this necessitated yet another Google search. I sweart hat site could well be re-named “The Dumb Parents’ Salvation”.

In the past, kids’ questions like this were admired, considered rhetorical and left unanswered. Parents were let off the hook, although there could well have been the “Go ask your Father/Mother” to pass the buck. After all, nobody likes to be outsmarted by their ten year old kid even, if we do appreciate their intelligence!

However, you can’t get away with that any more. If you don’t know the answer,  you’re expected to find out, even if that means exploring the very frontiers of human understanding to get the answer…the intellectual equivalent of landing on Mars.

While I realised that my daughter’s question focused on a more literal than symbolic interpretation of Issa’ s Haiku, I still decided to follow through on her question. How could a snail climb to the top of Mt Fuji? I’d never even considered how a human could do it, let alone a snail, so I really did need some help.

That’s when I stumbled across a fabulous and very human account of climbing Mt Fuji and I thought that anyone who appreciates the Haiku, would also appreciate their journey: Climbing Mt Fuji

That’s helped me formulate a sort of answer to my daughter’s question. That the snail would need to climb Mt Fuji during the Summer months but given the huge number of human climbers, it could very well hitch a lift to the summit…even if that’s cheating. I also made a mental note to warn the snail to be careful. With that many climbers about, it would be all too easy to get stepped on.

If you are interested in Haiku, you might want to check out my previous posts:

My First Haiku

Haiku & Mash

Haiku for Four Seasons

Roses Aren’t Blue

Do you have a favourite Haiku? If so please share it and likewise, if you have climbed Mt Fuji, I’d love to hear how it went.

xx Rowena

 

 

 

 

 

Cafe au Chocolat!

Welcome to another Weekend Coffee Share.

I hope you’ve had a great week and your sweet tooth is activated. The word for this week is chocolate. Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate! I know most self-appointed health gurus don’t class chocolate as a super food. However,that just goes to show they’re a bunch of quacks. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the ultimate super food. Indeed, super duper!

So, I hope you’re not on a diet. Even just reading this post, will pile on the kilos.

Our first stop is Max Brenner’s. Yummy! Max Brenner’s is a chocolate shop and cafe where chocolate seemingly oozes out of every nook and cranny and you could almost think you were in Wonkaland. I’m not sure whether I’d call death by chocolate a particular fantasy of mine but you could easily die a chocolate death in there, squeezing in mouthful after mouthful until ultimately exploding into a chocolate fountain.   Dare I mention Monty Python’s Mr Creasote  (who I must say I’ve mentioned half a dozen times on my blog)? That thought definitely puts an abrupt end to all my chocolate fantasies.

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Belgian Waffles at Max Brenner’s AKA Heaven.

When my cappuccino arrived, it was drizzled with luscious milk chocolate which I indulgently scooped up with the foam. Oooh it was good!!! Then, my Belgian Waffle arrived. Fortunately, it had a side-serve of lush fresh strawberries, just to create an illusion of health…too bad about the cream!

Although I’m shamelessly hedonistic at times, I must admit that I did feel a tad guilty indulging in Max Brenner’s alone. I’ve usually been there with Geoff in the past as a special treat. Instead, while he was slaving away at work,I was practically having an affair with this chocolate treat I had somehow managed to call “lunch”.

Yes, I can be absolutely shameless at times!

However, as if that wasn’t bad enough, on the way to my daughter’s doctor’s appointment, we stopped off at a French chocolate shop in West Pymble, Otello, which includes Du Plessy Praline. This inclusion is very important as its the chocolate shop I visited as I child every Easter, absolutely spellbound by the chocolate Easter rabbits. I don’t know the story behind the molds. The designs had to be French and I could have been skipping through the French countryside chasing the chocolate Easter bunnies. That is, if I wasn’t living in Sydney.

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My visit to Du Plessy’s triggered a creative frenzy. Exactly 10 years ago, Mum, the kids and I had visited Du Plessy’s just after my son had had his very first hair cut. He was 2 and our daughter was only 10 weeks old. Due to the haircut, I had my camera with me and while travelling down memory lane chatting with “Madame”, I plucked up the courage to ask her if I could photograph the kids in the shop. She agreed.

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Little Man and the chocolate.

So, while I was in the shop, I offered to email them through. While I was sending them, I saw the photos through very different eyes. I had forgotten that Madame had given our son a couple of chocolates while we were there. That doesn’t sound like anything special and yet it was. I don’t remember her giving us chocolates as children and these were special chocolates at that!!  It was also quite a risk too giving a two year old chocolate. I don’t need to describe chocolate spread all over a little face and hands. We’ve all seen it. The shop was the epitome of elegance…a look but don’t touch place and here she was risking an out-of-control chocolate terror leaving hand prints all over her shop. In retrospect, this was definitely a case of “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!” Yet, she didn’t seem to mind. All these twists and turns of memory culminated in Le Petit Chocolat.

Anyway, I left Otello with a gift of chocolate hearts. A gift in anticipation of the photos and so I made sure I dispatched them before I forgot!! Eating too much chocolate isn’t my only bad habit!!

By the way, my daughter’s trip to the ENT specialist went well. The vocal nodules have gone. Hallelujah! Excellent news! Need to follow up with the speech therapist but it’s a real relief.

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Sydney opera House viewed from Kirribilli.

Last Monday, I caught the train down to Kirribilli again to see the dentist. We are getting to know each other too well. I have been experiencing sensitivity and while this might be a great quality for a poet, it’s not an endearing quality in a tooth. Due to my complex medical issues or perhaps it’s just me, sorting the issue out is not straight-forward but my dentist, bless his soul, is persevering.

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Ironically,these train trips have been very productive. What with a 1.5 hour trip each way, that’s a lot of reading, writing and more writing.

When I’m done, I wander around Kirribilli or even catch a ferry into the city before I come home. This time I walked down to the Harbour through Bradfield Park admiring the massive pylons which look like they’re holding up the Sydney Harbour Bridge but are purely decorative.My walk coincided with lunchtime at a local boys’ school and the boys flooded out onto the narrow streets lining with Victorian terraces. That’s when I saw a soccer ball whoosh past me followed by a gang of legs. That took me quite aback. Seeing young boys playing soccer in the shadow of the Sydney Harbour Bridge , flanked by those huge granite pylons just seemed absolutely timeless, like they’ve always been there.

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A bit too popular- names carved into a Moreton Bay Fig Tree, Kirribilli.

Speaking of things which has seemingly always been there but not, I was entranced by a Morton Bay Fig Tree, which had initials and all sorts carved all over its trunk. It looked cruel, disrespectful in a way and yet they told stories and bore testimony to some of what the tree has seen and been a part of. There were so many untold stories!

As for Mister and his poetry efforts, he is going from strength to strength. You may recall that he is having to write poetry for his English assignments. After launching himself with Through My Window, he has moved on to Haiku. He had to write 5 and I didn’t actually see most of them before they went but they were looking good.One I found particularly profound: Roses Aren’t Blue

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This frog looks like it’s eaten way too much chocolate or has a tooth ache.

All this Haiku writing was quite contagious and the house converted into a Haiku laboratory of sorts in between distractions (Grr! Minecraft!!!) He needed to write a series of four Haiku about the seasons. Rather than writing about what the four seasons are like overseas, Mister wanted to write about what they are like here. However, while this is fabulously patriotic, it’s a little hard to write about four seasons when you don’t have them. At least, not in the conventional sense.

Anyway, I wrote a series of Haiku about all four seasons at our beach: Haiku for Four Seasons

Last week, I participated in Charlie’s Flash Fiction challenge again. I don’t usually write a lot of fiction and was initially sceptical about the effectiveness of writing flash but am now a real convert.

Last week’s prompt was “Galloping”. I wrote  the Galloping Little Man the Galloping Little Man who breaks free from his mother’s grasp and goes running down the aisle at Church squealing “Gallop! It’s quite interesting to read this alongside “Le Petit Chocolat” to think about how adults respond to young children.

This coming week, our son celebrates his 12th Birthday. Now, there’s only one more year until he becomes a teenager. However, as he’s already started high school, I think he’s had a bit of a head start.

Anyway, I think that about sums up last week. Hope you had a great week and thanks for stopping by!

This has been part of the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Diana at Part-Time Monster Part-Time Monster. Here’s the linky.

xx Rowena

Haikus for Four Seasons

Winter

Sitting on the sand

wrapped in a woolen coat,

I am waiting for you!

 

Spring

No bikini body here,

I watch the whales migrate.

Diet starts tomorrow.

 

Summer

Longing for the beach,

bare feet burn on the hot sand.

Steam rises in the surf.

 

 

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Ocean Beach looking across to Lion Island and Palm Beach.

Autumn

You have gone too soon.

Yet, sweet Summer hasn’t died.

I cling to your rays.

 

Rowena

6th March, 2016

Tonight, I set myself quite a challenge..to write series of four inter-connected Haiku for each of the four seasons, set down at our local beach  5-10 minutes walk from home. While there are seasonal changes at the beach, these can be quite subtle aside from the peak Christmas period when we actually experience some crowds as well as annoying traffic. The blow-ins are considered “blow flies” by many of the locals.

It was quite challenging working out how to interpret what really are fairly subtle seasonal changes here and work something out that covers the four seasons. The weather is largely good for 9 months of the year although there are some patches of incredibly hot weather. Even Winters can be pretty mild with only a few weeks of intolerable cold. At the same time, we do get stretches of heavy rain.

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Autumn Leaf, Pittwater, Palm Beach, Sydney

So, when it comes to describing our four seasons, especially set at our beach, many of those conventional symbols or representations aren’t applicable. We don’t have snow and while there are some deciduous tree with those stunning Autumn leaves, Australian native plants are evergreen and their leaves don’t change colour. There are town and suburbs which do experience a “true” Autumn but not around here. You really have to go searching for Autumn leaves. They’re not to be found on every street corner.

As for Spring, we have been on water restrictions here for over ten years and even though they’ve eased, the intermittent rainfall has been quite cruel to our garden. There is no sudden explosion of life from these dry sandy soils in Spring and if I’m feeling particularly motivated, I’ll pop down the street and buy some colour. Cheap colour so it doesn’t really matter if I kill it. Our garden really is more of a cemetery. Indeed, in Summer, make that a “crematorium”.

We actually took the kids and the dog down to the beach tonight for a walk and the kids had a brief swim. We’re not real keen for them to swim at dusk as there are some sharks around. Not that we’ve had any attacks here but we don’t want to be the first either! Really must try to get down there more often. It’s been too hot but our Summer isn’t over yet and I’m really going to try to squeeze out every little last bit that we have left.

xx Rowena