Monday, February 28, 2011

Hawaii –Inspiration and Meditation

In the morning we did not take the Pearl Harbor exit out of Honolulu leading to the historical sites but instead drove to the Ko’olau Mountain Range. This range is the western half of an original volcano that was destroyed in prehistoric times. It is 110,000 acres of beautiful forested slopes of unusual beauty where it rains abundantly. There were heavy clouds above as I mentioned in my last week‘s post on the North Shore of O’ahu.

Ko’olau Mountain Range - Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It was not raining yet when we arrived at the Byodo-In Temple, which is located at the base of the Ko’olau Mountains in an area known as the Valley of the Temple Memorial Park. This Buddhist temple is in Kahalu'u on the windward side of O’ahu Island, near Kane'ohe. It is visited by worshippers from around the world. As I first glimpsed at this temple I almost forgot to take its picture as I was in awe of its beauty with the rugged cliffs rising as a background and the fog overhead.

The Byodo-In Temple, which means “Temple of Equaliy, not to discriminate” was established on the 7th of June, 1968, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. American businessmen in the Kingdom of Hawai’i actively recruited Japanese immigrants to work on the sugarcane and pineapple plantations. The Japanese, as well as the Chinese, Filipino, Korean and Portuguese labored from early morning to late evening chopping and weeding sugar cane on vast plantations. The temple was built entirely without nails and is a replica of the 950-year old Byodoin Temple in Uji, Japan, on the southern outskirts of the ancient city of Kyoto.

Byodo-in Temple in Uji, Japan, built in 998 and used jointly by the Jodo Shi and Tendai sects (courtesy of Sir Hallo)

Past the entrance and crossing over the wooden bridge into the grounds is like entering another world – a world of peace and serenity. Close to the bridge is the Bell House or kanetsu-ki-do. It contains a five-foot, three-ton brass Peace Bell called bon-sho (sacred bell.) It was cast in Osaka, Japan, by permission of the government of Japan. I went ahead and with the wooden log called “shu-moku” I rang the bell strongly to hear its deep tone. It is said that the pealing of the bell will purify the mind of evil spirits and temptation and bless you with happiness, long life and luck. Bells are typically rung in most Asian Buddhist and Hindu cultures before entering a place of worship. This bell has a very deep lingering sound wave that brings a message of calm and tranquility inspiring meditation. On the top of the bell are little knobs so as to have the sound of the gong generated outwards – all the way to the local town of Kahalu’u.

Click on collage to enlarge then click on each picture to biggify

My husband had gone ahead to the temple and I followed him there. Walking on the path I passed the Meditation Pavilion.

Walking by the sound of trickling brooks and the meditation niches on the immaculately maintained grounds I understood why this is called a place of serenity, for private thoughts and inner peace.

I removed my shoes to enter the temple. I had a lump in my throat when I saw the tall statue of Amitabha Buddha. It is called the “Lotus” Buddha as he sits on a giant lotus flower. It was carved of wood by the famous Japanese sculptor, Masuzo Inui. Painted with black and gold lacquer then decorated with gold leaf it is the largest wooden Buddha carved outside of Japan in over 900 years – it is over 9 ft tall (3m.)

Alone in the temple I meditated a few moments then tried to light some incense. It started to rain and was windy outside so my match would not light the incense. I must have tried at least a dozen times or more but then I had the idea to place the incense in the sand next to the others and it finally lit. The hush of the place enveloped me as I placed my offering of incense in homage of equality for which the temple is named. It was mystical and peaceful there with no one around, just the sound of the rain.

Then I went back out into the Zen-style garden toward the koi pond.

A visitor was feeding the birds and the fish were waiting below.

It certainly was relaxing to look at the large reflecting pond stocked with hundreds of Japanese koi (carp.)

Black swans were silently swimming by.

As I approached the pond the koi would follow me thinking that I may feed them. I did not have any pellets and was already behind.

The Byodo-In Temple is a Hawaii landmark that is not visited very often as visitors prefer to go surfing on the North Shore or in Waikiki. It may be recognized by people who watch television as I understand it was used in shows including Hawaii 5-O, Magnum P.I and Lost (home of the Korean woman Sun’s father.) It was also in the movie Pearl Harbor.

I walked to the original Japanese tea house which has been converted into a gift shop where my husband was waiting for me and I bought some postcards.

The Byodo-In Temple is not an active temple but funeral and memorial services as well as weddings can be conducted there for Hawaiians or Japanese visitors. It is a non-denominational Buddhist temple welcoming people to meditate in its sanctuary. For a time the body of Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos was interred in a private mausoleum overlooking Byody-In Temple until it was moved back to the Philippines.

Byodo-In Temple in the shadow of the mist covered cliffs of the Ko’alau Mountain Range rising to the clouds is a fascinating place of endless beauty. We could have stayed there many hours, but it was time to go. We left for the North Shore.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Along the North Shore of O’ahu

Early in the morning the clouds were dark and low. We arrived at the Byodo-In Temple before the rain, but it started as I entered the temple – I’ll write a post about it later. As we drove up north, the sky started to clear up. Some guys in a pick-up gave me the “shaka” sign, meaning that everything was “cool.” It is used by Hawaiian locals to convey the “Aloha Spirit” of friendship and it also refers to surfing. Around here, in Georgia, it would rather mean that we are on the telephone.

We followed the scenic shore of Kahana Bay, stopping at the Kualoa Beach Park for a few minutes to get a good view of Mokolii Island and the coast. Mokolii Island is known among locals as “Chinaman’s Hat” because of its cone shape which looks like the hat worn by peasants in rural China. It was early and the clouds were still menacing so the park was a bit deserted.

Click on collage to enlarge then on individual photos to biggify

On one side a long sweep of the windward coast is open to view but when you turn around the tall cliffs seem to be very close.

I was able to take the pictures of the Pacific Golden Plover and the Brazilian Cardinal (or red-crested cardinal ) but I could not get too close to them. The Pacific Golden Plover is also called the Kolea. This bird returns here in winter from his summer nesting grounds in Alaska. During its migration it flies 50 hours non-stop from Alaska to Hawaii.

As we drove close to the sea I tried to take some photographs from the car, but it was not easy and they were blurred.

We kept driving on the Kamehameha Highway going north.

Map from a free tourist brochure

We stopped briefly at some small beaches around Ka’a’awa, such as Kahana Bay Beach Park, Panalu’u Beach Park and Hau’uhla Beach Park – all very scenic.

It is not easy to remember the Hawaiian names of these beaches. They also have nicknames like “Pipeline Beach” and “Police Beach” which are easier to remember. It was a Saturday but the traffic was not too bad. In winter the waves, or “swells” as they are called, roll in the North Shore of O’ahu bringing surfing enthusiasts from all around the world.

Don't forget to click on the collage then on each picture to enlarge them

The stormy North Pacific provides massive swells that are loved by pro-surfers. All these beaches with towering waves are magnificent really. I understand that the TV show “Lost” was filmed almost entirely on O’ahu – I have not seen this show but I can certainly understand why it would be a great setting for any outdoor program.

As we arrived at Sunset Beach we could hear music and a voice on the loud speaker. The surfing “Stand Up World Tour Championship” was in full swing.

By now the sun was really out and it was warm. Many people were watching the event.

The surfers were quite a way back and it was hard to follow them.

I used the telephoto on my Sony to try to get closer shots.

To get real close-ups one has to be in the water near the surfers I imagine. I found some good photographs on the internet as you can see below.

Photographs courtesy of Ron Dahlquist and sickshot

I frankly do not know much about surfing. I was surprised to find out that this is a very old sport, not started in California but was part of the Polynesian culture for centuries, before European contact. In 1779 one of the crewmembers of the HMS Endeavour on the first voyage by Captain James Cook described surfing – you can read about it here.
At that time their boards were made from the best local trees, such as koa and were 15 feet (5 m) long and very heavy. Nowadays they are made of polyurethane foam covered with layers of fiberglass or other modern material. They are light and buoyant measuring only 5 to 7 ft long (1 ½ to 2.1 m.) Although the fellow in my picture below has a surfboard which is longer than 7 ft – he must be a pro.

Sunset Beach and other beaches on the North Shore of O’ahu are notorious for offering the best Hawaii surfing swells, some of the best in the world in the winter months. When the National Weather Service issues high surf warning for the North Shore, surfers from around the world fly to this area to take part in the fun. Some of those giant waves – up to 60 ft tall - are very dangerous. Hundreds of surf boards are broken each year on the shallow reef and surfers are injured, some fatally, even hardened professionals. The giant waves are impressive and offer great photo opportunities, too.

After watching the surfers for a while we left and kept driving along the coast. We passed more pretty beaches with big, glassy waves, such as in Waimea Bay, another popular surfing beach.

We stopped briefly at Turtle Beach, also called Laniakea, where green turtles crawl ashore. Their skin is not green but they get their name from the color of their internal body fat. They crawl there to get away from the large tiger sharks which prey on them. Volunteers use red rope to mark off the “no-go” zone around the turtles so they will not be bothered by visitors. Banners in English and Japanese give information on the turtles. I only found the Japanese sign.

We passed the famous North Shore shrimp trucks. People will drive the one hour from Honolulu to eat shrimp from these trucks.

Before driving back to the interior of the island we reached the more than a century old rustic town of Hale’iwa. There are galleries, surf shops, a surf museum, eateries and other little shops housed there in plantation era buildings. One of them, Matsumoto, is very famous for its shaved ice. It was still very sunny, close to 75 degrees (24 C.) – a long way from the winter snow in the northeast of the US.

I tried to take a small video with my camera but somehow I cannot place it on this post. I found a surfing video on YouTube to give an idea of the big surfing waves on the North Shore of O’ahu.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Blog Intermission no. 9 (entr’acte) – Old Portraits

Théophile Gautier (1811-1872) is a well known French poet, dramatist, journalist, novelist and literary critic. His poems are romantic and musical. He loved to “tell stories” either in his novels or poems. Gautier was a friend of Victor Hugo. Théophile Gautier was highly regarded by successful writers such as Balzac, Beaudelaire, Flaubert, Proust and Oscar Wilde. The year 2011 is the bicentenary of his birth.

Théophile Gautier, French poet, 1811-1872

An association has been created in his honor, whose president is his great-great-granddaughter, Ms Anik Lesure. This association “Bicentennial 1811-2011 Gautier” will coordinate events in universities, museums and other gatherings to be held throughout the year.

Théophile Gautier’s daughter Judith (1847-1917) photo copyright Nadar

Théophile Gautier’s daughter Judith was one of the most fascinating women of her time. She had literary talent and unparalleled beauty. She was a great eccentric with inexhaustible generosity. With her dark eyes slightly slanted, her pale face and her mass of hair surrounding her Grecian face she was stunning and had many admirers. Théophile would say about his daughter: “C'est le plus parfait de mes poèmes” (She is the most perfect of my poems.)

Judith Gautier, by John Singer Sargent, American 1856-1925

Here is a lovely and musical poem by Théophile Gautier – I translated into English below.

Pastel – Vieux Portraits

J'aime à vous voir en vos cadres ovales,
Portraits jaunis des belles du vieux temps,
Tenant en main des roses un peu pâles,
Comme il convient à des fleurs de cent ans.

Le vent d'hiver, en vous touchant la joue,
A fait mourir vos oeillets et vos lis,
Vous n'avez plus que des mouches de boue
Et sur les quais vous gisez tout salis.

Il est passé, le doux règne des belles;
La Parabère avec la Pompadour
Ne trouveraient que des sujets rebelles,
Et sous leur tombe est enterré l'amour.

Vous, cependant, vieux portraits qu'on oublie,
Vous respirez vos bouquets sans parfums,
Et souriez avec mélancolie
Au souvenir de vos galants défunts.

- Théophile Gautier, French 1811-1872

The Lady in Lavender, Mary Brady Tipcomb, American 1858-1927


Here is the English translation –

Pastel - Portraits of Yesteryear

I love to see you in your oval frames,
Yellowing portraits of olden day belles,
Holding in your hands roses a little pale,
As befits flowers from a hundred years away.

The winter wind, touching your cheek,
Killed your carnations and your lilies
You only wear flies of filth
And on sidewalks all soiled you lay.

It is past the sweet reign of the belles;
The Parabère and the Pompadour
Would only find rebellious subjects,
And under their graves is buried love’s ardour.

You, however, in old portraits we can’t remember,
Breathe your scent-free posies,
And smile wistfully
Reminiscing on your departed lovers.

- Théophile Gautier, French 1811-1872

Dame Elégante, Emile Vernon, French, 1877-1919

Top portrait is Madame de Pompadour by François Boucher, French, 1703-1777.


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