Eve Isenberg – In Praise of Shadows

Last night was the winter solstice, the longest night of the year.  For me this is a somber time.  Candles and bonfires burned at the Yule celebration in my town where we sang and recited poems and hoped for the future together.  Deep inside we connect with each other in our common need to push back the dark, as have many past generations.  Dark is bad, light is good.  I remind myself to reserve judgement, because as death is part of life, light cannot exist without the dark.  One makes the other more beautiful.  We can only appreciate the sun in contrast to where it is not.  Architects, someone once said, build complex forms to better hold the emptiness.  Music serves to bracket the silence.  At this time of year it is important to appreciate shadow.
 
In Praise of Shadows is an essay written by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki in 1933 and was translated into English 44 years later by Thomas J Harper.  It is my December scripture.  The author mourns the loss of time-honored Japanese customs to Western modernization after the Meiji Restoration.  He records what it means to him to be Japanese: the warmth of wood and softness of paper, the murky quality of jade and the patina of well loved tin instead of glass, white tile, and chrome.  Dining by candle light, he noticed “as I gazed at the trays and bowls standing in the shadows cast by that flickering point of flame, I discovered in the gloss of this lacquerware a depth and richness like that of a still dark pond, a beauty I had not before seen.”  Gold decoration on lacquerware draws the light to it and also acts as a reflector.  My favorite verse is about Japanese domestic architecture:
 
In making for ourselves a place to live, we first spread a parasol to throw a shadow on the earth, and in the pale light of the shadow we put together a house… And so it has come to be that the beauty of a Japanese room depends on a variation of shadows, heavy shadows against light shadows – it has nothing else.  Westerners are amazed at the simplicity of Japanese rooms, perceiving in them no more than ashen walls bereft of ornament.  Their reaction is understandable, but it betrays a failure to comprehend the mystery of shadows.  Out beyond the sitting room, which the rays of the sun can at best but barely reach, we extend the eaves or build on a veranda, putting the sunlight at still greater a remove.  The light from the garden steals in but dimly through paper-paneled doors, and it is precisely this indirect light that makes for us the charm of a room.  We do our walls in neutral colors so that the sad, fragile, dying rays can sink into absolute repose…. We delight in the mere sight of the delicate glow of fading rays clinging to the surface of a dusky wall, there to live out what little life remains to them. We never tire of the sight, for to us this pale glow and these dim shadows far surpass any ornament.
 

What a wonderful opportunity to give depth to the shadows!  In the shadows there is pattern, subtlety, tranquility and reflection.  The dim light allows our other senses to tell us what we may not have noticed otherwise.  We become aware of where there is carelessness or waste when we must reserve our energy for keeping warm and using just what we need.  We take time to appreciate those we love, what we have and the beauty of nature.

 

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Now it is silently snowing outside.  The gray sky and white ground are connected by countless tree trunks which tilt slightly this way and that.  My home becomes a warm cave from which I can rest and observe the changing seasons.  When the seasons do change I will run outside and absorb the warm sun.  But eventually, I always look forward to the return of the shadows.

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Eve Isenberg is an Architect, wife, mom of three daughters, and much older than her mugshot. She lives in Concord, MA.

Makiko Aikawa – Spiritual Gifts

Happy Holidays!

Every year I make something special as Christmas presents for various people who worked with me throughout the year.  This year I made 4 pouches for 4 ladies, who supported me in many ways.  I love colors and I actually feel colors in people.

The first pouch I made is for the lady who likes black. She is very mature compared to her age, but she has very strong and bright colors inside her. I am not sure if she realizes this though!

One is for the lady who always stays calm, whatever happens, and she is modest, but I feel her intelligence and clearness. She is like a big tree staying quiet growing her roots firm in the earth.

For the lady who attracts people and brings a lot of joy, she is always moving around like the golden wind with sparkling sand gold.

For the fourth, she is clever. She is right. She is a perfectionist, but she has an inner artist and this artist enjoys expressing her freedom sometimes. She has deep color, perhaps because of her many inner layers.

The world of color fascinates me. I love the special moments of picking out colors and fabrics for my loving friends and making something special for them.  This is the way that I express my gratitude and connect to the them.

With best wishes for Christmas!
Makiko Aikawa

Makiko Aikawa is a color spiritualist, mother, wife, daughter, producer, promotor, coordinator, connector….has so many hats!  Through her experience of living and traveling in Asia, Europe and the US, she is good at mixing culture and making very personalized products and connecting people in the world.

Rodrigo Martinez – Going Deep

In the Mayan jungle. Rich, thick, mythical, ancient jungle. A crack in the rocks uncovers a beautiful, crystal clear, blue water whole. The Pit, the most famous cenote of all.

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“The Pit” by Rodrigo Martinez

In the water. I breath deeply. Really deeply. I take one last breath and then invert myself. I swim down…20, 30ft, every movement is deliberate, considered. 35ft….40, and then I stop moving. Total surrender. The pressure makes my body heavy, so I let go and let gravity take me down. 50ft…..the water hugs you as the pressure increases to 2, 3 atmospheres…..60, 70ft….80….100ft…as I pass 110ft I feel my self transformed.

My mind is clear, calm, I am in a meditative state. I feel total connection with the water around me, connection with the molecules of every drop to be precise. This nurturing, calm sensation runs through my being. A humbling feeling surrounds me. My soul smiles.

At the same time, my body is going through the fastest and most dramatic transformation of any sport. The mammalian reflex takes over. My heart rate has slowed down, my brain reroutes my blood flow away from my arms and legs and focuses on my heart and brain, my spleen starts to over produce red blood cells.

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“Cenote Zapote” by Julien Borde

I reach my depth. Slowly turn around. For a few seconds I see the trees at the bottom of this magical world. These trees are really branches that over millions of years have a crated a world of their own.

It has been 01:15, time to swim up. The pressure of 4 atmospheres has contracted my lungs to the size of a large orange. My body feels heavy, but somehow I feel strong, in control. I have been here before. With every kick I feel lighter. My mind slowly comes back to itself. The water becomes lighter, brighter.

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“Cenote The Pit” by Julien Borde

I break the surface. Deep exhales, quick exhales. Again. I feel complete calmness, like waking up from a deep and real dream. My brain and soul reconnect with the world above the water. Somehow I feel more alive, aware.

The Mayans believed the cenotes were the door to another world.  They were so right. There is a mythical, beautiful, deep world down there. And freediving has given me the opportunity to open that door.

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Rodrigo Martinez is passionate about biology + design + the future. He is Chief Marketing & Design Officer at Veritas Genetics. He is a freediver and makes a mean guac & margaritas. @RodrigoATCG

Brendan Ciecko – Seeking Grit and Ghost Signs

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I strolled along the cracked sidewalks and buckled paths of the “fossil American Venice” as Pulitzer Prize winning writer John McPhee once described this city. While passing through the sprawling district of canals littered with old brick mausoleums, I always notice something new. A century ago, that serpentine curve of the Connecticut River must have been a sight to be seen. Smoke stacks bellowing, trains roaring, and the bustle of things being produced in those factories. Each time I return, I examine the widespread decay, hoping that the “Queen of Industrial Cities” has stabilized and that she is in better condition than when I saw her last.

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“Hamilton Street” by Brendan Ciecko

Although many buildings and businesses continue to fall into ruin, the lack of forward motion has acted like a time capsule in some ways – preserving visual culture, commercial history, and proof of a more vibrant time. Behind flaking paint and around each corner, loom the ever-fading ghost signs.

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“Depot Square” by Brendan Ciecko

Most of my professional life has revolved around all things digital. Design is core to my being, and typography, a notable passion. When I travel my camera fills up with pictures of antique typography; hand­-painted signs, neon masterpieces, and chiseled cornerstones.

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“Haberman’s” by Brendan Ciecko

One of the things I can count on when visiting Western Massachusetts is that my ghost signs are still holding on tight. I’ve counted hundreds of interesting specimens within a mile radius of Holyoke’s majestic Neo-­Gothic City Hall.

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“Coca-Cola” by Brendan Ciecko

Oh, those ghost ­signs! High Street and Main Street have always been a feast for the eyes. Just look at the texture of the downtown, with its signage, old and new. But, the real treasures are of the businesses and advertisements long gone.

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“Main Pharmacy” by Brendan Ciecko

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“Essex Street” by Brendan Ciecko

Like a shoe-gazer on stage, you’d be surprised by what you’ll find with your head down. Terrazzo in the dipping entries of the old storefronts. Smashed marble and glass with hand-formed numbers and names of old departments stores. There must have been an old appliance shop here judging by that GE emblem, but I’ve never had the time to look it up.

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“GE” by Brendan Ciecko

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“Thom M” by Brendan Ciecko

In the 1960s and 70s, internationally renowned photographer Jerome Leibling took to the streets of this city’s raw downtown. During his time at Hampshire College, he brought along his students, including a young Ken Burns, to open their eyes and capture the grit of life.

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“Behind tenement” by Jerome Leibling

New York Times photographer Mitch Epstein documented the story of his family’s rise and tragic fall by the hands of Holyoke.

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“Newton Street Row Houses” by Mitch Epstein

A few months back, while visiting the deCordova, I came across a photograph in an exhibition titled “Overgrowth.” It was of a half­-shredded tenement with a hand-painted sign as an added bonus. Without reading the label, I knew where it was.

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“Coca-Cola, 1982” by Bill Ravanesi

These declining American cities have always captured our eye and imagination. I hope someday they’ll rebound, but until that day, I’ll continue collecting my snaps of signs and scenes of these formerly glorious New England mill towns.

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Brendan Ciecko is an entrepreneur, designer, and technologist. He lives in Boston, MA.

Randi Mail – Cycling Passion

My hands grip the handlebars, palms pressing down on the cushions of my fingerless gloves. My back is straight, but I lean forward facing the wind. The steady breeze in my face increases as my speed rises. I begin down the path along the river. “Hi Charles” I usually say aloud, with a big grin. I shoot a flirtatious glance at the water, its velvety and rippling surface laps at the shore. Might catch a hot pink or bright yellow duck boat or the mini sailboats in the distance out of the corner of my eye as I ride along.

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I know the bends in the path well, snaking around trees, benches, playgrounds, and sculptures.  Every so often, tree roots intent on slivering underneath from one side to the other create little heaves in the asphalt, black burrows cracking up across my way. I steady my feet on each pedal and position them midway on the rotation exactly opposite one another. At the same time, I draw my elbows in and lower my torso closer to the handlebars. A quick lift off the saddle, thighs lightly pinch the nose of the seat for stability and control. Over the bump… bump… back in the saddle.

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Legs pumping, I truly love this elegant invention. I have never owned a car. I play with my pedaling stroke to switch up the delicious muscle burn, sometimes slight sometimes intense. Maybe I’ll use my quads from hip to knee keeping my feet parallel stomping out the strokes. Or, activating my calf muscles I’ll start ankling. This technique involves pointing the foot slightly up on the down stroke and slightly down as you pull the pedal back and up.

The breeze shuffles my hair at my back. Little adjustments for total comfort, a tug here and there of my helmet brim and the back of my shirt. Breathing in, fresh air floods my lungs as I inhale deeply. Breathing out, my belly extends feeling peaceful as I become one with my bike.

Pumping. Click… click… I shift into a higher gear for more resistance and momentum. Letting go of the left handlebar first, then the right one, I sit upright. Lifting my arms out and up to the sides my shadow on the path is clear and tall. Bold and free, I ride over the dappled shadows of the leaves and branches from the border of trees beside me. This is me, I’m flying! I know I’ve got that twinkle in my eye, one of joy and pure passion. Nothing can compare.

Randi Mail is a lover of the outdoors, comedy, and the arts. She’s a positive change agent and natural leader working on sustainability from a triple bottom line perspective. From 2002-2016 she was Director of Recycling for the City of Cambridge in Massachusetts.

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