Houses Built for Spirits

Patricia Dominguez is feeding me images of shrines in Thailand. She says she’s seen hundreds, and “they all have small inhabitants inside them…”

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Shrines Of Ise, Great and Small

When I was in Japan in 2006, I visited the Great Shrine of Ise. Every 20 years for the last two millennia it’s been rebuilt out of Japanese Cypress trees using ancient construction methods, so that it’s “forever new and forever ancient and original”. Only one priest(ess) can enter the central shrine, within which there is supposedly an ancient mirror cocooned in cloth bag after cloth bag. There are tame deer roaming the town, which just heightens the surreal / mythical qualities of the place.

There is an ancient forest there, and it looks like visitors have built tiny shrines to the huge trees. These small shrines were the most memorable for me.

You can’t tell from this photo, but this tree is absolutely huge. I could have easily crawled underneath it.

Valley Of Ashes

This is a valley of ashes–a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air. Occasionally a line of gray cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak, and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-gray men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud, which screens their obscure operations from your sight.”

— F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Ch. 2

14 years later, Robert Moses turned it into Flushing Meadows Corona Park for the 1939 World’s Fair. He sequestered the ashes in the foundation of the Van Wyck Expressway.

Psychological Sewage

Rebecca Solnit has written, “If environmental problems are really cultural problems — about the nature of our desires and perceptions — then a crucial territory to explore or transform is the territory of the mind.”

I heard an NPR segment this morning about one of the myths we tell ourselves about water purity, which is actually counterproductive to our goals of drinking clean, safe water. Here’s a transcript. It’s written by Alix Spiegel.