The ASWM Conference! part 4
Oh, again! Almost forgot: the bus driver on the way out to the hotel was an old Asian man, and on the way back was an old Italian man. Both of them were really nice folks, happy to help me get the right stop. It’s interesting: clearly my small rolling suitcase and my using actual money marked me as a tourist — all the San Francisco natives have some kind of card in their wallets that they simply hold up to a small machine inside the bus, which obligingly squawks to let the driver know they’ve legitimately paid. The Asian gentleman was particularly kind to me, as I didn’t realize the bus would require cash only for the $2 fare, and I had only $1.85. He let me on anyway! I was quite touched by his generosity, and was careful to pay an extra 20 cents on the ride back, which first confused and then (when I explained) made the Italian gentleman bus driver chuckle and amusedly wave me on into the bus. ;)
So — mentally meandering back to the conference yet again! This time I’ve got the conference schedule open so I can reminisce better. Let’s see… I must first ask forgiveness for a happily tired and blurry memory, as I hastily type. I remember being surprised at how interesting Miriam Robbins Dexter’s keynote address on “Sacred Display: Divine & Magical Female Figures of Eurasia” was — especially since I had no real idea of what a keynote was! Nice use of PowerPoint to showcase some of the beautiful but little known sculptures, too.
The first track I went to was titled “The Holy Wind: Artists in Her Service.” I’ve already mentioned how impressed I was by the particularly personal art of one of the speakers, Lydia Ruyle. I also very much enjoyed several others of the speakers: Sudie Rakusin’s multicultural goddesses demonstrated a light, delicate drawing style which I rather liked, and her imagined saints were often hilariously fun. I can’t remember many of their names, which is a shame because they were clever — right now I remember only Sancta Cumulus. Lauren Raine had some absolutely gorgeous photos of her goddess masks being used, although I got the impression the slides distracted her from her actual planned talk, which was not linked to the PowerPoint display. She seemed to be enjoying herself more when she simply started talking about the masks as they came up on the slides, in fact — and that allowed the impressed audience to ask questions about specific beautiful masks as well. I think it was the moderator, Sid Reger, who explained the track’s title, too. If I’m remembering correctly (emphatically not a given, here! :) there is apparently no separate word for “art” or “sacred” in Navajo; they are both considered part and parcel of daily life. Particularly inspiring sacred art occurs when one is swept by a “holy wind,” though — and thus the title for this track, consisting of artists who make sacred art their life.
I spoke with a friend over dinner about other tracks — oh! Almost forgot: that night we had dinner at the most wonderfully cognitive-dissonance-creating restaurant: “Kennedy’s Irish Pub & Indian Curry House”! Yes, it really exists, and the food is delicious! The photo in the website is old — when we were there, they had “Indian Curry House” painted underneath the “Kennedy’s Irish Pub.” Didn’t spot any beer-tossing seals while we were there, though. ;) It’s mostly Indian décor inside, as well as extremely tasty Indian food, although I did spot Mulligatawny stew in the menu. Really nice waitstaff, too — we had vegetarians and omnivores in our group, and we all were quickly and easily served. I also ended up with quite a bit of leftovers — thank goodness for the little fridge in the hotel room, because the food was too yummy to leave behind!
Regarding restaurants, the conference staff included a listing of local restaurants in the conference paperwork, but I have to say it did not impress me. Only ten restaurants were listed — mostly just the name, website, and phone number — and when I checked them on google maps, they were all either not that close to the hotel (we were on foot), or a little pricy for a student on a tight budget. I confess I did like the name of one restaurant listed, though: the Codmother! ;) Other information I’d have liked to see in the restaurant listing: a greater number of restaurants (including fast food), their distance from the hotel, whether they served vegetarian food as well, whether they required reservations (because that says ‘too expensive’ to me!), and how pricy they were.
Just as an example, none of the places where I ended up eating dinner were on the list, but they were all wonderful. We had one dinner at a place called Hot Spud which was hot and tasty in the then-chilly city, inexpensive, offered both meat and vegetarian toppings, was staffed by really nice young men who were flexible about our extremely varied special orders, and which gave me enough for a later second meal. That’s a win! Another dinner was simply running down the block to the closest In ‘N Out, so we could have hot food fast and still watch the showing of the short movie Pink Smoke Over the Vatican — man, don’t get me started on the hypocrisy of the Roman Catholic Church’s clerics/bureaucracy! Grr. Another time. At least the lunch salads served in the hotel for the conference were tasty — although I heard from one vegetarian friend that the vegetarian option was less than stellar, unfortunately.
Oh, my! Lou, I think that’s a really lovely review of both Shinto, and the beauty and sacrality of life itself.
Rev. Evans footnoted the quote (which I can’t do in a comment) as being from Joseph Campbell’s “Myths To Live By” (New York: Penguin Books, 1972), p 102.
I thought it described well the simple power that art, music, and ritual can have on their own, that is lost when it becomes a description instead of an act that involves you.
Your description of sacredness being part of everyday life reminds me of a quote I just read in the introduction of “Shinto Norito: A Book of Prayers” by Rev. Ann Llewellyn Evans:
Joseph Campbell recounts a story of a western man who did not understand Shinto and requested further explanation from a Shinto priest:
“You know,” he said, “I’ve been now to a good many ceremonies and have seen quite a number of shrines, but I don’t get the ideology; I don’t get your theology.”
The Japanese (you may know) do not like to disappoint visitors, and this gentleman, polite, apparently respecting the foreign scholar’s profound question, paused as though in deep thought, and then, biting his lips, slowly shook his head. “I think we don’t have ideology,” he said. “We don’t have theology. We dance.”
That, for me, was the lesson of the congress. What it told was that in Japan, in the native Shinto religion of the land, where the rites are extremely stately, musical, and imposing, no attempt has been made to reduce their “affect images” to words. They have been left to speak for themselves — as rites, as works of art — through the eyes to the listening heart. And that, I would say, is what we, in our own religious rites, had best be doing too. Ask an artist what his picture “means” and you will not soon ask such a question again. Significant images render insights beyond speech, beyond the kinds of meaning speech defines.
— Joseph Campbell