A blog about the arts, books, flora and fauna, vittles, and whatever comes to mind!

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Friday, April 1, 2011

This Artist Rolls!

Dans le train

Anastassia Elias is an artist and illustrator who lives in Paris.  Her preferred medium is paper collages and paintings.  She has illustrated two children's books, and has exhibited her paintings.  She is self-taught, and claims to be motivated by exploration and observing other artists.


She enjoys finding ways to repurpose everyday materials.  One day she looked at an empty toilet paper roll and wondered what she could do with it.  Later, she had an idea.

Grand Nord. Chouette

She decided to make silhouettes inside the tubes, then display them with a simple light.  She cuts small paper shapes using paper that is very close to the thin cardboard that the rolls are made of.  She then uses tweezers to manipulate the figures into place.

L-R, top row:  Boxe; Football; Travaux.
L-R, bottom row:  Ecole; Pêche; Tango.

Because of the small scale of the project and the intricate cutting she does with the shapes, each finished piece takes two to three hours to complete.


On account of their small size, cutting out shapes is difficult.  She often takes photos to work from, especially photos that are lit from behind.


The imagery in her work comes from everyday life.  She feels that the small events of life go unnoticed, and she wanted to show that the mundane things of life are not boring.


Clever, simple yet time-consuming, Ms. Elias' work is unique and garnering much attention.  Not only is she an excellent craftsman able to consumate her designs, but an ingenious designer as well.  One can only hope she will continue to experiment with new and unique projects.

Images courtesy the artist's website.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The World's Other Biggest Book

The Kuthodaw Pagoda viewed from the southeast.

Last November I wrote about the world’s largest bookBhutan:  A Visual Odyssey Across the Last Himalayan Kingdom – which holds the Guinness World Record.  However, there is an older “book”, albeit not on paper.  With "pages" much the same size, it is inscribed on marble and was finished in 1868.  One can see it at the Kuthodaw Pagoda in Mandalay.

The complex at the foot of Mandalay Hill.

Mandalay is in Myanmar, the Asian country once known as Burma.  The Kuthodaw Pagoda is a stupa, which is a domed edifice that contains Buddhist (or sometimes Jain) relics.  This stupa is 188 feet high and is modeled on another one in Myanmar, the Shwezigon Pagoda near Bagan, which is the prototype for Burmese stupas and was built in 1102 CE. 

The Kuthodaw Pagoda viewed from the south.

“Kuthodaw” means “royal merit”, and gaining merit is of importance to Buddhists.  Someone can do that for themselves or for others, and one way is to build something significant.  Mindon Min was the penultimate ruler of Myanmar, and one of the most popular and revered kings.  He had the pagoda complex built at the foot of Mandalay Hill as part of the foundation of the new royal city of Mandalay in 1857.  He wanted to leave a work of great merit that had serious relevance to Buddhists.  So he took on a monumental project.

King Mindon Min.

The Kuthodaw Pagoda complex contains 730 small structures, called kyuksa gu (meaning “stone inscription cave” in Burmese), each housing a marble slab.  (Although you will often read there are 729 of them, there is an additional one on the southeast corner.)  Each marble slab is inscribed on both sides with the entire Tipitaka Pali canon.  This is the standard collection of scriptures in the Theravada Buddhist tradition written in the Pali language.  It is the only complete early Buddhist canon.  Originally composed in India, it was handed down orally until 29 BCE, when it was written down at the Fourth Buddhist Council in Sri Lanka.

Some of the kyuksa gu, containing the marble slabs.

Each marble slab is 3.5 feet wide, 5 feet tall, and 5 inches thick.  The marble was quarried 32 miles away and transported by river to the site.  There are 80 to 100 lines of text on both sides of each slab.  Scribes carefully copied the text on the marble for the stonemasons, who chiseled it out and originally filled it in with gold ink.  It took a scribe three days to copy text on both sides of the slab, and the stonemasons could finish up to 16 lines a day.  It took almost eight years to complete the marble slabs.  729 of them contain the Tipitaka, and the 730th slab has text recording how it all came about.

One of the slabs.  Note the very rounded script of the Burmese language.

The entire complex had gold overlay and jewels for decoration.  When the British invaded, they vandalized the buildings and images, and looted the gems and other valuables.  After a successful petition to Queen Victoria, the troops were withdrawn from religious sites.  Restoration began in 1892 with a group that included members of the royal family.  King Mindon Min had died in 1878, but it was tradition for relatives of the donor to be involved in repairs.  The repair committee also included senior monks, and former officers of the king.  The public participated as well.  The complex was never restored to its former glory, however.  The gold letters on the marble slabs were covered in black ink, which made it easier to read.

Gold inscription of Kuthodaw's formal title - Mahalawka Marazein.

In 1900 a print copy of the Tipitaka Pali canon was published in a set of 38 volumes in Royal Octavo size of about 400 pages each in Great Primer type.  The publisher was Philip H. Ripley of Hanthawaddy Press.  He was an Armenian born in Myanmar and brought up in the royal court.  He claimed that his production was true to the text on the marble slabs.

The Tipitaka set in stone was meant by King Mindon Min to last five millennia after the Buddha, who lived circa 500 BCE.  Halfway to that goal, the Kuthodaw Pagoda is still a respected Buddhist site, and a popular destination for scholars, tourists and devout Buddhists.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Chapel of Arboreal Apotheosis

Photo courtesy of Ji-Elle/Wikipedia.

The Chêne chapelle, or chapel oak in English, is a unique oak tree in Allouville-Bellefosse.  This is the oldest known tree in France.  Allouville-Bellefosse is a small farming village.  According to legend, this tree goes back in time to Charlemagne, and William the Conqueror supposedly knelt in front of it.

Both photos above courtesy of Le ghola/Wikipedia.

Scientists claim the tree is only 800 years old, too young for William the Conqueror to have seen it in 1035 C.E.  But it is still very old.  The tree is almost fifty feet high, and has a base circumference of fifty-two and a half feet.  Its hollow trunk accommodates two chapels.

Photo courtesy of Vincent Mauritz.

Both the Notre Dame de la Paix ("Our Lady of Peace") and the Chambre de l'Ermite ("Hermit's room") were built in 1669.  A spiral staircase that encircles the trunk of the tree leads to their entrances.

Photo courtesy of Paul Munhoven/Wikipedia.

The hollow was created in the 1600s when lightning hit the tree, burning right through its center.  Abbot Du Détroit and Frere Du Cerceau saw it and were inspired to build a different kind of sanctuary.  They proceeded to built the sanctuary to the Virgin Mary in the hollow.  Later the Chambre de l'Ermite and the staircase were built.

Photo courtesy of Paul Munhoven/Wikipedia.

The tree was almost destroyed during the French revolution.  A crowd incited by the revolution was going to burn it as a symbol of the old ways and of the church, which was abhorred at that time.  But a local resident quickly came up with a new name - "The Temple of Reason".  This appeased the crowd and the tree was saved.

Photo courtesy of Le ghola/Wikipedia.

The tree may not be alive for much longer.  It shows signs of age and stress, and parts of it are already dead.  It has lost much of its bark and in those places it is covered with wooden shingles.  Poles and cables support the tree.

Photos by Luc Doudet.

Each August 15th, the oak is the destination of a pilgrimage for the Assumption of the Virgin.  A local congregation holds mass here twice a year.  As the tree slowly passes away, the site retains its holiness, and chances are it will remain an important sacred spot.  May all trees be venerated!


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Salar De Uyuni

Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia.  Image courtesy of Ezequiel Cabrere/Wikipedia.

Bolivia is the poorest country in South America.  Gold, silver, tin, gas and oil have all been exported from the country, but those exports made others rich, not Bolivia. But it has another chance, and the country is guarding this chance carefully.

Image courtesy of Luca Galuzzi/Wikipedia.

Right now there is global demand for lithium.  This is a lightweight metal that is used to produce high-powered batteries for cell phones, laptops, hybrid cars, and coincidentally, my mouse.  The demand is expected to triple in the next decade or so, and fifty to seventy percent of the world's supply of lithium is in Bolivia.

The hexagonal tiles of the salt flat.  Image courtesy of Anouchka Unel/Wikipedia.

President Evo Morales seeks to expand state control over the resource, under the aegis of the minister for mining, Luis Alberto Echazu, who states, "We want to send a message to the industrialized countries and their companies.  We will not repeat the historical experience since the fifteenth century:  raw materials exported for the industrialization of the West that has left us poor."

Piles of salt.  Image courtesy of Luca Galuzzi/Wikipedia.

Not rushing to cash in on their valued export, Bolivia's government is considering the environmental damage that could occur with mass extraction.  A lithium extraction plant could generate pollution not only from fossil fuels but from the sulphur dioxide which is an unwanted by-product of extraction.

Salt production.  Image courtesy of Ricampelo/Wikipedia.

Right now the Uyuni salt plain, which is similar to the Bonneville Salt Flats and the Great Salt Lake, is an eco-tourist site.  It is the largest salt flat in the world, measuring 4,086 square miles.  Located in the Potosi and Ururo departments in southwest Bolivia it rests 11,995 feet above sea level.  It was formed during the late Pleistocene era when two lakes existed on the altiplano.  One of them slowly dried up about 15,000 to 10,000 years ago, leaving dissolved minerals to form a salt plain.  Some of these minerals are gypsum, potassium, lithium, magnesium, borax, and halite, also known as salt.

Layers of salt and water.  Image courtesy of Mitsuhirato/Wikipedia.

Salar De Yuni, as the area is known, is estimated to contain ten billion tons of salt. "Salar" means salt flat in Spanish, and Uyuni originates from the Aymara language and means "enclosure" or "pen".  So the name translates to "salt flat with pens", which could refer to the "islands" on it.

Cacti on "Fish Island".  Image courtesy of Claire Pouteau/Wikipedia.

The hexagonal tiles of the plain were created by the cyrstalline nature of the salt. They are dotted with pyramids of salt.  Despite the dryness (this is a desert region) and freezing night temperatures, there are pink flamingos, cacti, and rare hummingbirds, to name a few of its denizens.  Some of the cacti are thirty feet high.  There are roaming herds of vicunas, cousins to the llama.

Image courtesy of Anouchka Unel/Wikipedia.

Hundreds of Quechua natives from the surrounding villages process salt for a living.  They cut small blocks of salt, then commence with drying and grinding it, then add iodine and package it for table salt.

Traditional salt production.  Image courtesy of Steffen Siedz/Wikipedia.

About 15,000 tourists visit each year.  The scenery is breathtaking, and during the wet season the shallow water that covers the flats resembles a huge mirror.  An enterprising tour operator built a hotel entirely made of salt - the walls, roof, floor, chairs, tables, and some beds.  Since the intense sun heats the salt blocks during the day, at night the rooms retain that heat while outside temperatures may drop below freezing.

Salt hotel being built.  Image courtesy of National Geographic News.

There are twelve guest rooms with twenty-four beds and shared bathrooms around a central courtyeard.  The hotel is said to be comfortable and dry and does not smell like salt.  It has flush toilets but no showers.  There is a separate building with cheaper rates for backpackers.

Inside the Salt Hotel.  Image courtesy of hotelhatter.com

Although Bolivia's initial reluctance to open up the area for the mining of lithium may have stemmed from its experiences of others getting rich off their resources, with the area attracting tourists environmental concerns become financially important as well as the health of the native population.  May the country find a balanced solution to the dilemma and be environmentally safe and financially prosperous.


Monday, March 28, 2011

I Was a Gypsy Cult Follower

"Some people, when they think of Southern California, think of nuts. 
Not the kind that grow in trees, but the kind that swing in trees—the 
bearded, mop-haired, half-naked vegetarians who wander around 
in the hills and occasionally roll into town like a pack of wild men. 
It was quite a few years ago when I lived like this."  ~  Gypsy Boots

When I was sixteen I became a vegetarian.  I used to go to my local health food store - they weren't mainstream at that time - every weekend.  I often ran into this strange and delightful man in the parking lot, giving away organic citrus fruit and extolling the virtues of organic foods and vegetarianism.  He was preaching to the choir, but I liked talking to him.  It was hard to find organic produce then, unless you grew it yourself, and it was very expensive.  So I enjoyed getting the citrus fruits and his special bars.  He was a walking advertisement for a healthy lifestyle and the main reason I liked to talk to him, aside from the subject matter, was that he spoke to me like an adult and never, ever leered.  Something a braless, hippie-wannabe girl often encountered.  I knew who he was because I had seen him so often on The Steve Allen Show.  He was Gypsy Boots.

Gypsy Boots in Santa Cruz on August 26, 1968.
Image courtesy of Corvello & Corvello Historical Photo Collection.

Born Robert Bootzin in 1914, and also known as Boots Bootzin, he was an original.  He extolled a natural lifestyle eating healthy foods, exercising, and being positive.  He never ate meat, drank alcohol, or smoked tobacco.  He is credited for founding a natural lifestyle that included vegetarianism, yoga,  and "health food". He even coined the word "smoothie" on The Steve Allen Show, as he offered his fruit health drink.  Long before there were hippies, he was the prototype.

Gypsy Boots with bodybuilder Dave Draper.

He was born in San Francisco and raised vegetarian.  His Russian-Jewish family hiked, did Russian folk dancing, and fed the homeless on their homemade black bread.  By 1933 he had dropped out of high school and wandered with others of "his kind".  In the 40s he lived with his "tribesmen" near Palm Springs, where they lived off the land and under the stars, sleeping in caves and trees and bathing under waterfalls.  They picked fruit seasonally, and called themselves the "Nature Boys".  Boots is said to be the inspiration for a song that fellow tribesman eden ahbez wrote (he preferred lower case letters).  This song made it big time when it was recorded by Nat King Cole in 1948, and has been recorded by many artists since then.

The Nature Boys in Topanga Canyon, 1948.
Gypsy is in the back row, left.  ahbez is in front.

In 1958, he married and settled down in Hollywood, where he raised three kids. His health food store "Health Hut" was the first of its kind and Hollywood celebrities patronized it - think Gloria Swanson, Kirk Douglas.  Besides smoothies, he also concocted an all-natural, sugar-free "Boots Bar" with spirulina, wheat grass, kyolic garlic and Medjool dates.

Eating grapes while lying on a bed of nails.
Image courtesy of Robert Carl Cohen, 1999.

He might have remained a local legend but for television.  In 1955 he was on You Bet Your Life.  Groucho stated that he admired his rugged individualism.  He made appearances with Spike Jones and his musical comedy group.  He was also on George Putnam's Talk Back show.  But he really became nationally known thanks to The Steve Allen Show.  He appeared on it 25 times in the 60s.

In 1968 he cut his own album - Unpredictable - on Sidewalk Records (a sub label of Tower Records and distributed by Capitol).  He also wrote a couple of books - Barefeet and Good Things to Eat and The Gypsy in Me.  Being that he was a Hollywood resident, of course he was in a few movies:  The Game; Mondo Hollywood, Swingin' Summer, and Confessions of Tom Harris.

An early advocate for healthy products, he became a spokesman for kyolic garlic. He did some PR for a Sonoma cheese factory, offering garlic-flavored "Sonoma Jack" cheese at his booths at health fairs and at fairs in the Sonoma valley.

In his later life he could still be seen at health food stores, health fairs, and farmers' markets.  He was an avid football fan, especially of the USC Trojans, and at age 86 he could throw a football forty yards.

He died just eleven days short of his 90th birthday in 2004.  He is most probably remembered as one of those Hollywood/Southern California weirdos, especially to those who have lived in a rigid box.  Quirky, warm, funny, and the precursor to the Energizer Bunny, I will remember him as someone who "found" himself early in his life, and dared to be that person long before some of the things he advocated became not only acceptable, but "cool".  It was serendipitous to have found the photo above, courtesy of the Whole Wheatery, a health food store near my neck of the woods.  It was here that I saw him last, not long before he passed.  We spoke of the old days (he remembered the health food store and hanging out in the parking lot passing out fruit, but not, alas, me!) and the changes he'd seen in his lifetime.  He gave me a booklet he was selling and autographed it for me.  What a guy!

Images unless otherwise noted from his personal website.