Monthly Archives: October 2014

Rafael Alberti

Alberti is another Andalucian poet honored in the park in central Seville. As you can see, he is quite modern, living from 1902 until 1990. He began his career as a painter, but turned more and more to capturing the beauty of art in his poetry. Here he playfully brings a painters eye to the life of colors. I find his whimsy delightful, and hope you do too. Here is my reading:
BLUE. How many blues did the Mediterranean give?

RED. Like the fleeting hue of a Poppy.

Yellow. I am afraid of blue because it turns me green.

Green. I am always known by another name: Spring.

BLACK. It turned its back to the light, and darkness was born.

WHITE. Sea spray, galloping in the breeze.

Haiku–A Departed Soul

Today’s prompt on carpediemhaikukai is to write a classic haiku on “A departed soul.”  This seems most appropriate as we approach el dia de los muertos in Hispanic countries.  Since I am now in Seville, Spain, immersed in the poetry of Garcia Lorca, Raphael Alberti, and Gerardo Diego, I am going to take a crack at writing this haiku in Spanish:

en mi ventana

una cierne colibri

querido padre

at my window

a hummingbird hovers

my beloved father.


In a small park in central Seville, the city has placed a series of stone carvings to honor the poets of Andalucia.  This photo honors a poet I had not known, Gerardo Diego, who lived from 1896-1987.  The inscribed poem seems to be a beautiful rendition of the romance of yin and yang.  I hope you enjoy his song, forgiving my unpolished translation:

You are teaching me to love.

I did not know.

Night and Day.

NIght loves the day, clear light

loves the darkness.

Such love, so perfect and so rare!

You are my happiness.

Day draws near to night, kisses

only for an instant.

Night promises a lover’s kiss

to Day-white.

You are teaching me to love.

I did not know.

To love is not to ask, but to give.

My soul empties out.

Morning In Seville

Monday morning dawns with a promise of beauty and adventure. Carolyn and I traveled by the high speed train (AVE) yesterday from Madrid to Seville–328 miles–in just 2 and 1/2 hours. We are staying in an apartment in Triana, across the river from the main part of town. We love this area, since it is where the folks live, and is not too touristy.

Part of the joy of travel is the surprising and usually brief encounters with people, both local and international. Martin Buber suggests that real living is encounter, even at a distance if one has the ears and the heart to hear the call of the soul in another. Three times yesterday morning in Madrid I had Spanish people ask me directions, and twice I actually knew the answer. The third gentleman was most gracious when I explained I was an American, and did not know the street he was seeking. We had a lovely exchange, and parted shaking hands. These short but sweet human meetings warm my heart, and reinforce my belief in the positive energies of life. We hear the horrors of the world on the evening news (if we choose to listen), but every day offers the gift of grace and warmth that brings light to those dark forebodings.

This Ebola scare is a good example. None of our lives will have a happy ending–at least from one point of view. We might find some consolation in the belief in an afterlife or in reincarnation, but still, death has its sting. Plato, of all people, warns us not to live a life which is little more than “a rear guard action against death.” I find that inspiring. I don’t want to miss today’s blessings because I am worried about what awful thing might happen.

A student once remarked that this attitude could have me ending up with a bullet in my head. I answered that I would rather live ten more years without fear, and catch that bullet, than live 50 more years in craven fear. So many people worry about life after death. I think it is far more important to give attention to life before death. Whatever happens afterwards will take care of itself.

So we are off for a day in Seville. What will we see? What fabulous tapas will we discover? Who will cross our paths? And if things should “go wrong,” then the adventure begins.

I’ll end by sharing a picture I took last night from our balcony of the Seville Cathedral–the third largest in the world:

Shingon Pilgrimage



a weary pilgrim

wades through seas of emptiness

not making a sound

The famous pilgrimage course of Shikoku island celebrates and worships the spirit of Kukai (Kobo Daishi) who founded the esoteric Shingon (True Word) sect of Mahayana Buddhism in Japan.  He lived from 774-835, and founded his head temple on the beautiful Mt. Koya on the main island of Honshu.

I have always loved his name.  The kanji “ku” signifies air, or sky, and “kai” means sea.  The haiku above, therefore, is a play on his name: Sea of Emptiness.

Many years ago, I brought my class of 26 students for an overnight stay in a temple on Koya-san.  We had an unforgettable experience walking through the unique graveyard (Okuno-in) to Kukai’s mausoleum.  It is said that he did not die, but has been in deep meditation for 1000 years, and it is easy to believe in that powerful setting.  We enjoyed a dinner at the temple served by the monks (there are 50 ways to eat your tofu), and then rose early for meditation and chanting.  During the next class at the university, I asked my students to share their impressions of the journey. Everyone had found the experience profoundly moving, but one guy cracked the class up by telling us that the best part for him was staying up half the night drinking beer and sake with the younger monks.   I found it delightful that they could also laugh at their own humanity.

Speaking of which, Kukai was a contemporary of the monk Saicho (767-822) who founded the other early sect of Mahayana Buddhism, Tendai, based on Mt. Hiei.  Although they studied in China at the same time, and worked together in their younger years, they had a falling out concerning the proper training for esoteric studies.  These two great and holy men spent their final years resenting each other, and not speaking.  On the one hand, this is disillusioning.  On the other hand, I find consolation in the human failings of even the exceptional among us.  I wrote about this in the post on Jesus and the fig tree, and it underscores Mary Oliver’s reassurance that “you don’t have to be perfect.”  Whew!


Joaquin Sorolla

Yesterday, Carolyn and I visited the wonderful museum of Joaquin Sorolla (1863-1923). He was the most celebrated Spanish painter of his day. You can read about his life and career on Wikipedia, so I will simply share some subjective impressions of our visit.

The painting at the top of this post, of the boys at the beach of Valencia, shows Sorolla’s love of people, and his ability to express the magic of color and of life itself. A commentary on the walls of one of the rooms underscores Sorolla’s “ability to capture a fleeting impression, a momentary reflection, of vital and continuous movement.” This seems to me to be an exact description of haiku poetry, and it brings home again the understanding that all the arts–verbal, plastic, dance, and music–have this in common: that they capture the pathos and the beauty of the universal by an exquisite depiction of particular detail.

Here is another example of his love of people and the swirling colors of water:

imageI apologize for the poor quality of the photo, but this painting was high on a wall.  Still, you can clearly see the amazing movement of the water as the girls wade hand in hand.

Many of his paintings are depictions of women at once beautiful and strong:


He once said that the weariness and patience of the women who fished translated directly into the tenderness and care of motherhood.

Sorolla was also most sympathetic to the hardship and contributions of common laborers, as exemplified by this famous painting hanging in the Prado:

imageIt is entitled Y aun dicen que el pescado es caro: And they still say that fish is expensive.  The young man is clearly dying, hurt in the line of work, demonstrating just how expensive fish really are.  I was particularly struck by the compassion on the faces of the men attending the young man.

Finally, the museum is actually the home in Madrid that Sorolla shared with his beloved wife Clotilde and their three children.  Even if there were no paintings, the house itself is an oasis of tranquility.  Here is Carolyn resting in the garden:


Some of Sorolla’s most impressive work can be seen today in New York City, at the Hispanic Society of America’s building in Manhattan.  There are 14 magnificent murals of the various provinces of Spain on permanent display.   His home here in Madrid, however, is a gem well worth visiting.


Traveling with Carolyn


Starting Monday, October 20, 2014, Carolyn and I will be spending two months in Spain, and in the Spring of 2015, two months in Italy. We hope to share the sensuality of these lovely countries, and the joy of the human connections we make along the way..

Our love of travel was nurtured by our careers as university professors, since we were able to attend many international conferences. The years we spent based in Japan also allowed easy access to the Orient. Over the years we have visited 25 countries, and we continue to dream of distant horizons.

We find travel intensified living. New colors, sounds, smells, quality of light, language, and customs are continually fascinating. We therefore travel primarily to drink in the rich textures of our planet, and to interact with the people who inhabit it. Of course, that doesn’t rule out enjoying the unique tastes of each country, and we spend a good amount of time wandering the streets, reading menus, and chatting with the folks who cross our path.

We also feel that language is the key to people’s hearts, so we do our best to learn at least a few words of our host country’s language. We have a good working knowledge of Spanish, Japanese, French, and Italian, and continue to spend part of each trip studying at language schools. This is a great way to travel, since it allows us to practice the skills of communicating, and also to feel a part of the place beyond simple tourism. It is amazing how the faces of people soften when we say “Somos estudiantes de la escula de idiomas aquí  (We are students in the language school here.)”

During the next few weeks, I will be posting from Madrid, Sevilla, and Nerja, a small coastal town in Andalusia.  I hope to share some of the flavor of those places and the people who live in them.

Hasta pronto…