Confucius and a Home-Cooked Meal

by John Hertz: (reprinted from No Direction Home 11)

Blond woman and dog
Running for joy in Van Nuys
Lift my heart today

Liang Yun-hê was playing erh-hu at the Huntington, Pasadena; in the Chinese Garden, naturally.  I arrived in time to hear the end of “Fisherman Singing in the Evening”, a ku-ch‘in [seven-string zither, sometimes called the Chinese lute, e.g. R. van Gulik, Lore of the Chinese Lute (1941) – the author we know for his Judge Dee stories; Van Gulik (1910-1967) inter alia played the ku-ch‘in himself] piece Mr. Liang had arranged for the erh-hu [two-string fiddle].  I’ve left out the drunken part [Tsui-yu ch‘ang-wan is really “drunken fisherman singing in the evening”].

Seated across from him in the Studio of Pure Scents was a young Caucasian boy, which was particularly suitable since Mr. Liang started playing erh-hu at age 8; he inter alia is music director of the Chinese school A Little Dynasty, Irvine, California, and composed the erh-hu theme music for Disneyland Shanghai.

The Chinese Garden Liu-Fang Yuan [liu fang, “flowing fragrance”, meaning the scents of flowers and trees as the seasons turn, is from “Rhapsody on the Luo River Goddess” by the prince-poet Ts‘ao Chih (192-232)] opened in 2008 although it isn’t expected to be finished until 2020.

Around the lake, which I saw and heard men draining for maintenance, are weathered limestones from Lake T‘ai [T‘ai Hu, “the great lake”, Chiang-su province; third-largest freshwater lake in China].

I drank a cup of T‘i Kuan Yin tea at the Huo Shui Hsuan “freshwater pavilion” tea shop [an oolong from An-hsui province; Kuan Yin is the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, who hears the cries of sentient beings (Buddhists really mean sentient and not sapient, unlike SF authors who for some reason misuse this word) and reaches down to help them; the Lotus Sutra ch. 25 explains there are male and female manifestations; Chinese Buddhists venerate Kuan Yin as female; one story of how the tea was named tells of an iron statue of Kuan Yin; T‘i Kuan Yin is often somewhat misleadingly translated “Iron Goddess of Mercy”].

On the Bridge of Verdant Mist, which quite unfairly brought to mind Mist on the Waters from Between Planets, I heard a woman say to a man “It smells like mud,” and I ventured “That’s because it is mud,” meaning the drainage; they smiled.

The Pavilion of Three Friends is named for bamboo, pine, and plum, symbolizing fortitude, integrity, and resilience; all three grow nearby; carvings of them decorate the ceiling; I quite unfairly thought of the Three Friends as Confucius, me, and you – like the Hal Clement collection Trio for Slide Rule and Typewriter, whose title I’ve explained to more than one reader by asking “Who or what do you suppose is the third in the trio?” and looking expectantly.

A glossy reddish-brown upholds and joins and rails the white walls, coloring pillarettes (a word I just made up) and else.  It’s Mountain Camphor paint, supplied by Dunn-Edwards to match samples from Su-chou [the city, in Chiang-su province, long (by our standards) rendered “Soochow”].  I saw a scale model of the Garden, 3 1/2 x 2 1/2 standlees (more or less; Kevin Standlee is taller than I and his steps larger).

I saw a baby Confucius camellia (Camellia reticulata) about two feet high – I couldn’t walk up it – with, so far, only leaves.  William Hertrich was superintendent of the Huntington gardens 1903-1948, loved camellias, started growing them from seed in 1912; 80 different species by now; the International Camellia Society has named the Huntington an International Camellia Garden of Excellence.

A couple of standlees up the slope was a Chinese snowball (Viburnum macrocephalum) with three white flower clusters facing the path.  Confucius was a Chinese snowball.  From his historical life two and a half millennia ago, how he has grown.

Across the path I saw a coast live-oak (Quercus agrifolia), its trunk only a little taller than I.  Live oak has struck me as a strange name ever since I first met it in Macroscope but I know it means the trees are evergreens.  The coast is the West Coast; native here.

On the way out I saw, by taking a moment for a sign, that I had been right, it was a Calder stabile: Jerusalem, or not to be unfair a 1/3-scale version lent by the Calder Foundation: the original, 72 feet long, is at Mt. Herzl, installed 1977, the last sculpture he produced.  He loved gateways and it has them.  He invented mobiles – Duchamp named them – in 1932.

The Red Car Café had Fosselman’s ice cream, as right for Pasadena as Mr. Liang’s erh-hu music was for the Chinese Garden.  I took another moment for a cup of lemon sorbet.

– o O o –

Owen K. Garriott, Ph.D., died last month (1930-2019; he was 88).  He had been a Star Scout and president of his college senior class.  He went to Space twice: for sixty days during Skylab 3 (1973), at the time a world record, and for ten days aboard Space Shuttle Columbia (1983).

In 1983, operating the first amateur radio station from Space, call sign W5LFL, he connected with his mother in Enid, Oklahoma; Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona; King Hussein of Jordan: 250 in all.  On September 10th, Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) Bob Crippen in Houston was startled (the New York Times said “flabbergasted”, 17 Apr 19 p. B15 col. 1) to hear a woman’s voice beaming down, calling him by name, and explaining “The boys haven’t had a home-cooked meal in so long, I thought I’d bring one up.”

She described forest fires seen from Space, and the beautiful sunrise; after several minutes she ended “Oh-oh, I have to cut off now.  I think the boys are floating up here toward the command module, and I’m not supposed to be talking to you.”

Dr. Garriott later revealed he had recorded his wife’s voice in a private radio transmission the night before.

It all started with a Third Grade teacher who had an orrery; as the Times quoted Dr. Garriott, “Fascinating.”

By the time he was 15 he had learned Morse Code and gotten an amateur-radio license.  In 1965 he was one of the first six scientist-astronauts of NASA (United States Nat’l Aeronautics & Space Adm’n).

In 2008 he published the Skylab history Homesteading Space (with David Hitt and astronaut Joseph Kerwin); his son Richard was the sixth Space tourist, and first second-generation American, to go up.

Dr. Garriott said he never got bored, which the Times thought was news and probably was.  “Anyone who runs out of something to do must have had a failure in their imagination.”  One of us.

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