Tuesday, May 16, 2006

1. I say this with increasing frequency and increasing seriousness as I get older, but it is true: You have to have BALLS OF STEEL to do calligraphy. It is not for the faint of heart, the feverishly worried, the hesitant. Raymond DaBoll famously called it "disciplined freedom" in a broadsheet, but I've come to find even that term somewhat incomplete.

The point is: I look for images of people writing, drawing letters, doing calligraphy, dipping pen into ink on film and on TV more than anything, more than the way I look for diner chrome and pressed glass. Always have. And last night on the Anthony Bourdain show my obsession was greatly rewarded.

He was learning calligraphy in a Chinese Cultural Center in Beijing or Chengdu and the master calligrapher was just whipping his ass around. Chastising him for his breathing, his posture, everything. Completely nicely and masterfully, but...I dunno, it was partly AB's willingness (annoying in other contexts) to be the joke for the moment, laugh about the over-seriousness of it as he saw it, that made the whole thing a very outward and visible demonstration of the fact that calligraphy is one of the harder things you can do in this life. It made me really happy -- it felt accurate. That sounds aggrandizing -- I don't mean it that way, like, I'm such a badass! Because I feel very much like an apprentice at calligraphy in this life still. It was more like what I said before: accurate. It is that hard, and it's kinda fun to see it shown as such. Especially the crucially simple things. Anybody can do fancy Victorian engrossing--it's the rows of marching plain letters that are killer. It's like that drawing a perfect "O" exercise in art class--except that you have to be able to do it. Every time.

At the end the master calligrapher wrote out a cooking phrase for AB, and the show completely annoyingly sped up the film so the guy was calligraphing at a speed you couldn't watch. I wanted to watch his hands with a microscope. But, oh the end product. I got all teary eyed looking at it--so beautiful. It's annoying to me that to I'd have to learn a whole other language to go somewhere where they appreciate calligraphy as much as I'd like.

Anyhow, a satisfying little episode, all the more so since it was the often-irritatin' AB who played it out.

2. I wasn't in Germany that long in HS & college, but I was there long enough to cringe every time the newly fashionable term "guestworker" comes up these days in every single immigration debate. I immediately hear "gastarbiter," with all the elongated As and all the prejudice behind it. There's nothing wrong with reclaiming the term and ridding it of its connotations (query: possible?), but it is a little like hearing people argue for a new classification of people called "unwelcome foreigners" or something.


Anonymous said...

What was the phrase that the man made for AB at the end?

Elizabeth M. Tamny said...

I just found the clip here...

It sounds like it's "the dao of cooking"...you can see for yourself! Really beautiful.