The way of tea, or Chanoyu, is a ritual coming together of people to prepare and drink powerful green matcha, in artful utensils and in rooms which demonstrate the host’s values. It is a celebration of life which comes out of an earlier Chinese style, but has been refined by the Japanese. When I’ve been present, the constraints of the ritual release unexpected meeting points and joys in the people sitting on tatami together. The Japanese tea ceremony is well-represented in the Bay Area by the Urasenke Foundation, which traces it lineage back to the 16th century tea master Sen Rikyu, who simplified the ceremony, democratizing it.
|Akiko Crowther, Calligrapher|
Linda had been talking about Brody Neuenschwander for quite a while and one night in 1996 he turned up, a totally engaging speaker. He had been working with filmmaker Peter Greenaway on Prospero’s Books and was currently working on The Pillow Book. Greenaway said, “I am certain that there are two things in life which are dependable: the delights of the flesh and the delights of literature.” The body is a book, in this case. How would a book speak? The evil publisher destroys the metaphor, makes a book out of a body. Taking the metaphor too literally, he must die. The movie, when I finally saw it, was perverse, but gorgeous.
Neuenschwander has gone on to become a considerable artist. On his web page, I found his current thoughts on calligraphy: “It would have made things easier [if I had been born into the rich Arabic or Chinese traditions], but a lot duller. Their tradition is too well established, hard to budge, patriarchal and stiff. There are some great modern Arabic calligraphers, but their innovations are not on the scale of contemporary Western artistic production. I am actually rather happy with the idea of pushing this particular envelope, helping to create a new calligraphy.”
I gave most of my free time to tai chi in the 1990’s, but I also worked full time and devoted time to writing and film-making. This culminated in finishing the film Tenth Moon, about the similarities between tai chi and calligraphy, in 1999. I had always imagined walking around the woods and coming upon a poet who engaged me in writing haiku. Tenth Moon dramatizes such an encounter.
Linda Race played the calligrapher and wrote out all of the texts. Emilio Gonzalez played the tai chi master. The other major players in this short film were Don Starnes, cinematographer, and Dick Bay, who wrote and produced the music. We made the movie in 16mm on Angel Island, with Kodak film, a mostly analog process. It still looks wonderful to me. You can see for yourself here: Part 1 and Part 2.
Looking back at all this activity, I see that what is really exciting is the meeting of East and West. What does a Norwegian/Danish person straight out of Minnesota do when she meets Eastern traditions? She jumps right in. Wabi-sabi is certainly a Norwegian value, as well as a Japanese one.