Posted in Miscellany

Living in the historical moment – the Collapse of Kabul

The Buddhas of Bamiyan Valleys before the destruction by the Taliban

One of the four reasons why George Orwell wrote was to record historical events in his time with a sense of writer’s responsibility to witness the moments for posterity. Imbued with the Orwellian spirit, but more egged on by the concern for the reign of terror, as a citizen of the world, I care to write about the current volatile situation in the Taliban regime of Afghanistan. Now I can see a danger of theocracy in which religion is a leviathan consistency master computer that controls people’s lives and psyches. Religion becomes an authoritarian Big Brother, the Demiurge that plays the absolute moral and ethical being in the mask of profoundly sacred deity leading to hatred of the physical world we live in. In this situation, the beauty of art intrinsic to our human essence is a decadent luxury, expendable to the bargain in the politics of heritage.

The fate of Buddha before the killing

The reinstatement of the Taliban government in present Afghanistan provokes the image of the great Buddha statues located in Bamyan, Afghanistan, until the Taliban obdurately and proudly destroyed in 2003 because the statues were idols opposite the teachings of Allah. The Taliban ignored pleas from the UN, including Islamic countries, that urged them to preserve the world’s treasure of civilization for humanity. The statues of Buddha represented Gandaha art, a wonderous syncretism of Hellenism of ancient Greek culture and Buddhism of Indus Valley civilization. It’s an exquisite synthesis of the West and the East, which tells us that people found a way to cross vast continents and seas and mingled to blossom into a new civilization even a millennium ago. Thanks to the one and only Macedonian Alexander the Great, emblematic of the wise and cultured political and military leader of all seasons, our human civilizations dispersed farther. They prospered further, as evidenced by the now begone great statues of Buddhas built by Bactrians, the descendants of soldiers in Alexander’s army who remained in modern-day Afghanistan by force and perforce and founded Hellenistic Bactria. By the way, there are still the descendants of the ancient Greek forefathers living in the area, even though their cultural expectation in the form of the statues of Buddhas have become mysterious wonders of the ancient world.

The artifact of humanity is gone

I am not condemning the religious whose faith is commensurate with their regard for others because a true believer of any faith is also a good person. The world’s representative religions do not promulgate violence and antagonism, at least not in their sacred texts per se. Still, misinterpretation or over-interpretation of the words have been the seeds of discord in history. I remember Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said that you don’t have to be a Christian to be a good person. If you are a Hindu, be a good Hindu, a Muslim, a good Muslim. I wish people of all faiths would take her words to heart. Then we could place the Republic of Heaven on earth.

Posted in Miscellany

Psychology of a cat

Toro after a visit to the vet in Little Tokyo

When my eleven-months old cat Toro started drooling in white foams last Wednesday evening after swallowing a tiny flying insect in my bedroom, I was in a panic. I called nearby emergencies, describing the state Toro was in, but they told me his symptoms were not regarded as critical. Instead, they told me to monitor him, so I did. He stopped drooling the next day and drank a lot of water. Nevertheless, my concern was still growing, doubled with regret that Toro should have met an owner in a vast, spacious home with that which would make him happy. The pang of grief punctuated my already broken heart, and I was distraught.

“I am not feeling very well.”

Luckily, a vet to whom I had previously taken Toro for his difficulty in excreting in Little Tokyo said she could see Toro on Saturday morning. The waiting period until the appointment was an ordeal by the torture of the heart. My spirit was sunk in a sea of sadness, blaming myself for not providing Toro the optimum environment to thrive in his best feline nature. The bedroom is so tiny that it is more of a den, and the living room where my elderly infirm mother spends most of the day intermittently is off-limit to Toro by keeping him alone during the day when I am working. My evening playing with him might probably bore him to death because my lack of creativity fails to invent more stimulating kinds of play that will perk up his energy. I cannot help but think that I am becoming a bane of Toro’s existence, the cause of his unhappiness.

Pre-idopathic cytitis diagnosis time when Toro liked me

To pour lead on my open wound in the heart, when I finally took Toro to the vet on Saturday, she diagnosed him with idiopathic cystitis. She showed me a scanned copy of Toro’s mildly swollen bladders with information on the illness caused by stress. That’s it. The diagnosis realized my imagination and shattered a slim hope of something other than STRESS. I see all the cares I had given to Toro as best as I could beyond my measure by taking him to vets and telling him how much I loved him as much as I could dissipate into the elusive dreams of my little happiness with Toro. My happy moments with Toro vanished into yesterdays, bidding farewells to tomorrows.

“More exciting play!”

It’s been a week since the diagnosis, and now Toro has changed. Toro now hides under the bed, doesn’t come up to my bed, and avoids me when I am home. Besides, he doesn’t eat as much as he used to, about which the vet told me to be patient because that could be the effect of changing his prescriptive diet from gastrointestinal to urinary care. What is strange about his sudden change of behaviors is that he was never like this from his previous visits to vets. Come what may, Toro seems to be unhappy, and I am very downtrodden for his changed behavior. He was the only one who showed me his affection.

Toro in his whimsical mood for playing

I still remember his adorable, curious big eyes peeping out of an opening from a box carrier when I brought him from Ventura Animal Shelter last August at the age of nine weeks. Purring and kneading are long gone. My reason suggests that re-homing Toro is the best I can do for his happiness, yet my heart tells me not to listen to it and look for another place for a better living environment. Nevertheless, I yield to my heart’s voice and want to believe that there is still hope for us to be happy in a better living condition. I hope to see mirth wonton around us and happiness sparkle before our very eyes soon.

Posted in book review

‘Leonardo and the Last Supper’ by Ross King

Leonardo and the Last Supper by Ross King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I still remember an excellent replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” in a tapestry form decorated on the wall of our family living room when I was in elementary school. It was vast and expansive, nonetheless magnificent with the profoundness of the scene and the expressions on the faces in it – all wondrous and curious. Now a stream of time has flown, but the first impression of the art still has become one of the stars in my heart’s constellation. “Leonardo and the Last Supper” by Ross King has added to the star the brilliance with telling stories resurrecting the atmosphere of the time and vividness of the people surrounding the creation and the creator of the art.

The book is an alluring admixture of the biography of Leonardo da Vinci and the history of religion, politics, society, and culture; all skillfully swirled in Ross’s skillful narrative account of the person of da Vinci and his work of the Last Supper. The narrative becomes more intriguing as the chapters replete with entertainingly informative tidbits about personal accounts of people related to da Vinci and involved in creating the Last Supper are ascending. The story’s construction follows how Samuel Johnson, the 18th-century English essayist and cultural critic, narrated the lives of poets in The Lives of the Poets, composed of a brief biography of a poet, personal accounts of the poet, and professional criticism of the works. The reader will first be acquainted with da Vinci’s biographic backgrounds: parents, a well-to-do lawyer father, and a middle eastern slave mother owned by his father’s household. Da Vinci’s struggle with spelling and even harder Latin education, his fabrication of engineering work experience in his curriculum vitae to obtain a military commissioned engineer post when coming to Milan from Tuscany, and so forth. All the information is a telltale factor contributing to da Vinci’s rise to celebrity in his and our times, which is refreshingly informative to learn that the perennial polymath also had feet of clay with colors of contrast.

Ross is a scholar with a novelist’s magic wand to wield his writing power, casting a spell on facts and knowledge with the beauty of language and ease of words, captivating readers of all life paths with gripping narrative skills. Another book of his “Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling,” which I enjoyed with great pleasure, is a helpful companion to this book because both Michelangelo and da Vinci were contemporaries, working under their aristocratic patronage the recalcitrant spirits of creative souls in reins of livelihood. It would also be an excellent reference to the social statuses of artists at that time. Contrary to our images of free-spirited artists, artists worked for their royal, ecclesiastical, and wealthy employers. Therefore, they were not free to choose subject matters for their works because their bosses wanted their power and fame to become works of art, as it were.

Upon closing the last page of Leonardo and the Last Supper, I reminded myself of Plato’s aesthetic definition. Art is a copy of Form, the perfect, pristine Beauty. It exists only in Idea because da Vinci was also a scientist and an engineer who found perfect beauty in perfect numerical and astronomical elements of nature. However, da Vinci’s Last Supper is filled with pathos, contrasts of human emotions, paradoxes of light and dark, good and evil, constantly changing, never-ending. Da Vinci was a humanist, finding beauty in nature as it is, regardless of perfect Form, the unattainable ideal that is out of touch. One thing right about Plato’s Aesthetics is that art is at best entertainment and at worst a dangerous illusion. That says it. Leonardo’s Last Supper is a soul’s entertainment, and so is Ross’s “Leonardo and the Last Supper.”



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Posted in book review

Portrait of Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh: A Life From Beginning to End by Hourly History

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here’s a portrait of a man who hated being alone yet found freedom when alone. Austere yet bohemian, religious yet autonomous, he was a paradox himself like the faces of Janus. It was no other than the painter Vincent Van Gogh himself in his well-known portrait looking more in disappointment with the world than in madness against it.

As the late eminent Australian biographer of Ben Jonson Ian Donaldson once put, good biography is anything but a bland, chronological summation of a man’s life, and I am not intent on reciting the dates of from Gogh’s birth to death and in-betweens. Instead, I am all mind in positing what I think he was, other than the man with a bandaged self-mutilated ear because our sensory perception often betrays the truthfulness of what we see when stimulated to the external sensation. Indeed, Gogh was a disturbed man whose sensitivity found no elbow room in the world with which he so endeavored to have a long-lasting content relationship. It is not to say that Gogh was an archetypal self-imposed exiled artist who voluntarily distanced himself from ordinary life scenes. Hardly so. As shown in his letter to his beloved little brother Theo, who helped his misunderstood forlorn artist brother as ever, Gogh tried to be as good-humored and cheerful as he wanted. Still, it was the world that seemed to betray him with blows that bludgeoned his unalloyed wishes and noble aspirations.

Gogh’s paintings reflect his love of realism and reject artificial romanticism without the ideal romantic ambiance in vogue with the time. He was interested in all that existed as they were because discovering beauty in the coarseness of reality was his objective in achieving creative and experiential values. In this regard, Gogh was in the same artistic vein as Francoise Millet, whose paintings Gogh admired because Millet believed that treating the commonplace with the feeling of the sublime was what gave art its true power. The only difference between the masters of art was how to portray it with individual flairs of colors, techniques, and perspectives based on their tastes and judgments. Gogh’s ‘Potato Eaters” might not have that romantic dignity surrounding the hardscrabble peasants. Still, they were unforgettably expressive in the nuanced struggles and strife they had to bear and live with. Perhaps the uneasy cohabitation of the independent spirit and the loving heart distinguished Gogh from his famous peers who had the practical sense to reconcile their creative souls to social needs.

Moreover, Gogh lost a sense of direction when he realized that a man of the cloth wasn’t his cloth. The existential frustrations from the confliction of the will then added to his already innate fragile sensitivity, a hereditary mental trait running in his maternal family. Nevertheless, Gogh continuously endeavored to fend it off and conquer it, even when the citizens of Arles, where he dreamed of building a haven for his kindred spirits, united to expel him from the city he once cherished. However, one good-hearted postman continued to give him a touch of kindness till he voluntarily admitted himself into a mental asylum for the peace of his mind and others’.

To me, Gogh tried to live up to his conviction of good, fulfilled life with exquisite sensibilities, and unalloyed humanity too great for the realities of the world he was born into. His life was life imitating art, and art was not imitating but expressing life as he saw. Yet, be it ever the play of the fate, the more he tried to be good-humored, the more estranged he became because he was an extraordinary artist constantly breaking away from confinement prejudicial to his ever sensitive and creative spirit. Upon reading this elegantly narrated life of Vincent Van Gogh, I realized the truth of the genius only took some time for its brilliance to shine, no matter how long it would take. Who would have thought Vincent Van Gogh, who once sold only one of his works out of hundreds, would be looking at his admirers in the constellation of brilliant painters in heaven? For those who are creators of arts in all genres, famous or hidden, amateur or professional, the story of Vincent Van Gogh will be a consolation to the heart and hope to the spirit that never knows the end.



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Posted in Poetry

Agony and Ecstasy

The Castle West of the Moon has two marble sculptures:
One is Ecstasy of Saint Teresa and the other Laocoon,
The works of Art in the image of Perfect Form
As though the makers of such Art had seen it in a dream;

The divine ecstasy swept chaste Teresa in fiery passion
Tearing a thin veil of hidden desire beneath a cloak of faith
As Cupid’s Arrow of Desire thrust her heart in and out
And teased her with a recalcitrant paroxysm of ecstasy;
The eyes half-cast to the exhilaration of flowing streams
Of wanting, asking, giving, wanting it all in growing rapture
As the lips opened to the truth of the sensation she had denied.
How incredible Teresa’s devotion to God was wreathed in glory!

Whereby Laocoon, the Trojan priest of Neptune, stood in agony
Frozen in marble ice as the Serpents coiling his ribs and thighs
Towering in their divine glory that the gods bestowed upon the beasts
And his two young sons coming to aide in filial haste in pitiful vain
Watched their righteous father perished in punishment for the truth
Against his audacious enemies for Helen treading upon his beloved Troy.
Twice round their bodies the Serpents’ long and winding volumes rolled,
Twice round their breaths the Serpents’ insidious and portent venoms gushed,
The Father and Sons dissolved into one great monument of struggles for life
As the Serpents wreathed them with their mighty power in triumph.

The Queen of the Castle looked at the marvelous wonders of Art
In a surge of indomitable compassion for Laocoon and his Sons
For the painful death was beyond the reason of justice and sense
Even though it mattered gods, and gods and God were selfish always,
Whereby Teresa’s Ecstasy was deliciously dreamy in a sweet delirium
Glistening like dewdrops reflecting a rainbow on the gossamer cobweb.