Wednesday, September 29, 2010


For the next month, I will be taking a short break from my normal schedule of posting a new article or photo essay every four or five days.  Having just completed my fiftieth posting since beginning "Transit Notes" in April, I find that I need a little time to rest, reflect, and address a few personal matters that require my attention. As time and opportunity permit, however, I will continue to follow and comment upon the inspirational postings of my friends in the blogging community.

During my absence, I will leave this space with a small gallery of photos, some of which have appeared before.  I will also leave some of my favorite passages from the Tao Te Ching.  These words give me peace and comfort daily, and I hope that you will find solace in them as well. 

There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don't try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

 Can you step back from your mind
and thus understand all things?

. . .  just stay at the center of the circle
and let all things take there course.

If you want to become whole,
let yourself be partial.
If you want to become straight,
let yourself be crooked.
If you want to become full,
let yourself be empty.
If you want to be reborn,
 let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything, 
give everything up.

He who stands on tiptoe
doesn't stand firm.
He who rushes ahead
doesn't go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
He who defines himself
can't know who he really is.
He who has power over others
can't conquer himself.
He who clings to his work
will create nothing that endures.

Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.

Leaving Lisbon, Acrylic

When there is no desire,
all things are at peace.

. . . the Master concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower. 
He has no will of his own.
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.

Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the Master makes use of it, 
embracing his aloneness, realizing
he is one with the whole universe.

If you look to others for fulfillment,
you will never truly be fulfilled.
If your happiness depends on money,
you will never be happy with yourself.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize here is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.

True mastery can be gained
by letting things go their own way.
It can't be gained by interfering.

Autumn Tree Life, Acrylic

Seeing into darkness is clarity.
Knowing how to yield is strength.

The Master's power is like this.
He lets all things come and go
effortlessly, without desire.
He never expects results;
thus he is never disappointed.
He is never disappointed;
thus his spirit never grows old.

The mark of a moderate man
is freedom from his own ideas.

When two great forces oppose one another,
the victory will go
to the one that knows how to yield.

If you realize that all things change,
there is nothing you will try and hold on to.

. . . whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.

I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, and compassion.

Peace and joy to everyone!

Sunday, September 26, 2010


During the past week, my generous and creative friend, Bonnie, whose wonderful blog is the  Original Art Studio, has used her venue to interview several other creators of blogs.  We have already had the pleasure of enjoying interviews with Ruth, whose main blog is Synch-ro-ni-zing, Kent, whose blog is Expat From Hell, and Friko, whose main blog is Friko's Musings.  

Although my blog, "Transit Notes," is relatively new on the blogging circuit, I have also been interviewed by Bonnie, and I am pleased to announce that the interview now appears on Bonnie's blog.  If you're interested in the interview, you can pull it up by clicking here.  I will be happy to answer any and all questions about either the interview or matters that have been discussed on my blog.  

In any event, I suggest that you check out Bonnie's site on a regular basis.  As other readers will attest, it's always creative, beautiful, wise, and inspirational.  I also highly recommend the blogging sites of the other interviewees, including those who will follow me.  You will find great images, moving prose and poetry, and loads of insights that are pertinent to our day to day journeys.

Thank you, Bonnie, not only for the interview, but for the contribution you make daily to the international blogging community.  It's an honor to have my blog featured on your site.

My most recent posting on this site, titled "A Walk Around the Inner Harbor," was posted on Friday, September 24, 2010, and will remain featured for a few more days.  It can be accessed by clicking here.

Here's hoping that everyone has a great week ahead!


Friday, September 24, 2010


A heartfelt thanks to everyone who contributed to our wonderful conversation on Zorba and the philosophy of his creator, Nikos Kazantzakis.  May the spirit of Zorba always find a place to dance in your souls.

It's an impossibly beautiful day here on the Chesapeake Bay, a day that summons me to take a walk around the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, which is only about sixty miles from where I live.  I want to just amble around the docks and back streets to discover whatever can be discovered, and then celebrate my discoveries with a late lunch at a good Lebanese restaurant.  Join me!  It's a great place to be when the the constant changes of shapes, shadows, lines, and colors make one part and parcel of a giant, magical kaleidoscope.

Since you are not here with me physically, you will have to walk with your eyes and see what I see, which, as readers will know, is sometimes representational and sometimes abstract.  So, here we go, beginning with the photo above, which is a view of the modern structures of the National Aquarium against the background or older, traditional architecture.  I love the way the angles and intensity of the modern relieve the vertical and horizontal designs of the older buildings.

Below is one of the reflections I am finding on the rippled waters that catch the slanted light of the early morning sun.  The creations of nature leave me in awe.  I just have to remember to always look for beauty in unexpected places.

The Inner Harbor was once a pocket of urban blight.  Thanks to visionaries like the late developer and urban planner, James W. Rouse, however, the Inner Harbor is now a beautiful, eclectic mix of restaurants, museums, bookstores, shops, and historical sites.  Mixing the modern with the traditional is always a risky business, but it seems to work in Baltimore's Inner Harbor — at least for me.  

In the photo below, the National Aquarium is on the right; the old lighthouse ship, "Chesapeake," is on the bottom;   and the building above the ship's rear mast is an old power generation plant that was transformed into magnificent offices, a Barnes and Noble Bookstore, and a Hard Rock Cafe.  The developer's effort to integrate the new with the old  is appealing to my wabi-sabi spirit.

One of the strangest discoveries of this day is the reflection below.  Everything in this photo is just a reflection — no debris, no paper — yet I cannot help but think that I have discovered the fragments of some ancient map, or perhaps the tattered remains of some wisdom written in hieroglyphics.

This is the stern of the US Frigate Constellation (1797 - 1853), which was used extensively during the War of 1812.

Anchored in a canal behind the old power plant, currently a Barnes and Noble Bookstore, is the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter "Taney."  More fascinating to me, however, are the surreal  reflections in the windows of the building to the right of the vessel:

As I continue my little walk, I discover many other abstract designs that please me, including an interesting convergence of geometrical shapes behind the National Aquarium (photo immediately below) and more colorful reflections in the water.

This old "tall ship" is now one of the historic vessels of the U.S. Coast Guard. Below is the facade of a new office building that I see in the distance.  I like the abstract design and appreciate the fact that someone has just opened a single window to provide the focal point I was searching for.

Sorry, folks, but I just can't get enough of these reflections.  Is Monet up there somewhere, dabbling small splotches of rich color on the harbor waters?

Two other photos and then we're off to lunch.  The first is a view of the Baltimore landscape as it appears from the south side of the Inner Harbor.  The second is a bit of whimsy — a whirligig at the American Visionary Art Museum, a fascinating place that is also on the south side of the harbor.

The wildlife must eat and so must I . . .

May I recommend the Lebanese Taverna and suggest the Taverna Mezza (above) with a glass of chilled pinot grigio.  Now, that's a great day.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Grave of Nikos Kazantzakis, Heraklion, Crete
Photo by Christos Tsourmplekas (2009)

"I hope for nothing.  I fear nothing.  I am free."
Epitaph of Nikos Kazantzakis

Like many others of my generation, I was introduced to the works of Nikos Kazantzakis through Michael Cacoyannis's 1964 film version of the author's great novel, Zorba the Greek.  I saw the film for the first time in the early seventies at an old Washintgon movie house that featured foreign films.  Soon thereafter, I stuffed a duffel bag with several Kazantzakis books and headed off for a month in Greece, hoping to find Zorba's spirit — and perhaps my own — among ancient stones and the mysterious waters of the Aegean.

After more than two weeks of traveling from one island to another throughout the Greek archipelago, I reached Heraklion, Crete, where Kazantzakis was born in 1883 and buried in 1957.  On the first day after my arrival in Haraklion, I arose early and walked through half-deserted streets to the Kazantzakis grave site, just outside the city walls.  It was quiet place, and beautiful in its  simplicity — a plain, rough-hewn wooden cross, a few large stones covering the grave, and a topstone on which Kazantazkis' chosen epitaph was engraved:

Detail From Photo by Frente (2003)

The most common English translation of the epitaph is: "I hope for nothing.  I fear nothing.  I am free."  Other translators, however, have insisted that a more accurate translation is:  "I expect nothing.  I fear nothing.  I am free."

The first translation may be the most literal, but the second — at least in my view — is the one that best captures the true spirit of Kazantzakis' philosophy.  Influenced by Buddhist teachings, Kazantzakis was not opposed to that form of hope that is often coupled with faith and optimism.  He was opposed to hope that is based upon desire and  expectations of favorable outcomes, because he believed that desire and expectations, like fear, keep people focused on future events, rendering them incapable of living and experiencing life in the present moment.

The ten words of Katzantzakis' epitaph — so spare, so unambiguous, so courageous — were a bit of an epiphany for me.  For the first time in my life, I realized that freedom — my lodestar from an early age — was not a place, not a level of financial security, not some type of achievement;  it was, instead, the ability to abandon expectations and to live fearlessly in the ebb and flow of every moment. It was one of the most liberating messages I have ever received, and though I often fall short of the mark, I have never doubted the wisdom of what I learned on that morning thirty-eight years ago.

I still have the tattered paperback copy of Zorba that was in my rucksack on that sun-drenched morning that I stood before the grave site of Kazantzakis.  Looking now at the passages that I underlined when I first read the book, I find nothing that does not still resonate with me.  I offer some of these passages below in the hope that others may also find something of value.

That's what liberty is, I thought.  To have a passion, to amass pieces of gold and suddenly to conquer one's passion and throw the treasure to the four winds.
* * * * *

Everything in this world has a hidden meaning . . . Men, animals, trees, stars, they are all hieroglyphics; woe to anyone who begins to decipher them and guess what they mean . . . When you see them, you do not understand them. You think they are really men, animals, trees, stars.  It is only years later, too late, that you understand . . . 
* * * * * 
Zorba sees everything every day as if for the first time.

* * * * *

The house appears empty, but it contains everything, so few are the necessities of man.

* * * * *

The greatest prophet on earth can give men no more than a watchword, and the vaguer the watchword the greater the prophet.

* * * * *

While experiencing happiness, we have difficulty in being conscious of it. Only when happiness is past and we look back on it do we suddenly realize — sometimes with astonishment — how happy we had been.

* * * * *

Everything seems to have a soul — wood, stones, the wine we drink and the earth we tread on. Everything, boss, absolutely everything!

* * * * *

I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else.  And all that is required to feel that here and now is happiness is a simple, frugal heart.

* * * * *

What a voluptuous enjoyment of sorrow those hours of soft rain can produce in you!  All the bitter memories hidden in the depths of your mind come to the surface:  separations from friends, women's smiles which have faded, hopes which have lost their wings like moths . . . 

* * * * *

This was true happiness:  to have no ambition and to work like a horse as if you had every ambition.  To live far from men, not to need them and yet to love them. To take part in the Christmas festivities and, after eating and drinking well, to escape on your own far from all the snares, to have the stars above, the land to your left and the sea to your right: and to realize all of a sudden that, in your heart, life has accomplished its final miracle: it has become a fairy tale.

* * * * *

It is a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature.  We should not be in a hurry, we should not be impatient, but we should confidently obey the eternal rhythm.

* * * * *

I looked at Zorba in the light of the moon and admired the jauntiness and simplicity with which he adapted himself to the world around him, the way his body and soul formed one harmonious whole, and all things — women, bread, water, meat, sleep — blended happily with his flesh and became Zorba.

* * * * *

Every man has his folly, but the greatest folly of all, in my view, is not to have one.

* * * * *

[Zorba] is dominated by the basic problems of mankind.  He lives them as if they were immediate and urgent necessities.  Like the child, he sees everything for the first time.  He is forever astonished and wonders why and wherefore.  Everything seems miraculous to him, and each morning when he opens his eyes he sees trees, sea, stones and birds, and is amazed.

* * * * *

"The idea's everything, he (Zorba) said.  "Have you faith?  Then a splinter from an old door becomes a sacred relic.  Have you no faith?  Then the whole Holy Cross itself becomes an old doorpost to you."

* * * * *

That is what a real man is like, I thought, envying Zorba's sorrow.  A man with warm blood and solid bones, who lets real tears run down his cheeks when he is suffering; and when he is happy he does not spoil the freshness of his joy by running it through the fine sieve of metaphysics.

* * * * *

Each time that within ourselves we are the conquerors, although externally utterly defeated, we human beings feel an indescribable pride and joy.  Outward calamity is transformed into a supreme and unshakable felicity.

Nikos Kazantzakis
1883 - 1957
It has been said that Kazantzakis was the most important and most translated Greek writer of the 20th century.  He didn't win the Nobel Prize for Literature when he was nominated in in 1957 — having lost by one vote to the French novelist and philosopher, Albert Camus — but he is clearly worth reading for those who strive daily to make sense of man's struggle in what often appears to be a chaotic world.
They think of me as a scholar, and intellectual, a pen-pusher.
And I am none of them.
When I write, my fingers
get covered not in ink, but in blood.
I think I am nothing more than this:
an undaunted soul.

Words Nikos Kazantzakis
used to 
describe himself in 1950. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010



To the best of my knowledge, my the "blog feed" problems have been resolved, and my fellow bloggers are being alerted when new postings are published.  Thanks for your patience.

In the process of trying to solve my technical problems, I made some design changes in the blog, using one of Blogger's new templates.  Among other things, the new template is wider and provides more creative space, which gives a little breathing room to both the text and photos.  From my perspective, it makes the blog a little easier on the eye.  I hope you will agree.

* * * * * 


I spent yesterday in Washington, primarily at the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art.  Inspired by Bonnie's recent post on Old Montreal, I thought it might be fun to share some of the day's delights with you, beginning with the East Wing itself (above), which was designed by the renowned architect, I.M. Pei.

As I entered the East Wing and descended one level, my eyes were riveted to Wall Drawing No. 681C, by the American artist, Sol LeWitt.

Just a few steps away was a small gallery adorned by three works of the abstract expressionist painter, Mark Rothko.

This is a wonderful, small stabile created by Alexander Calder and titled Vertical Constellation with Bomb (1943).  I love the way that the shadows add to this composition.  As I looked at this work, I began to wonder if shadows, in the Jungian sense, also improve the compositions of our individual selves.

Turning left from Vertical Constellation with Bomb, I saw this collection of small Calder stabiles and mobiles.  Again, notice how the shadows provide a sense of depth and play.

As I proceeded back to the main level of the East Wing, I found myself drawn, as moth to flame, to the moving walkway that transports people from the main part of the East Wing to the lovely cafe and gift shop.  Except for the floor level and a portion of one wall, the area of the moving walkway is rounded, cavernous, and lined with lights that change in appearance with every passing second.  The lights, coupled with the movement of the walkway itself, allowed me to create the above photo and the ones just below.  The thing that caught my eye, and which I tried to capture in these photos, was the sense that we are each on a mysterious journey through time, drawn toward something that is both luminous and divine.

The ground level floor of the East Wing, like the exterior of the building itself, is a feast of geometrical design — walls and windows at sharp angles, intense colors against neutral tones of stone.

From this vantage point on the third floor, one can get a sense of the play of light, shadows, and angles in the building.  In the foreground, of course, is another Calder mobile (Untitled, 1976).

This is essentially the same view, zoomed in a bit.  The sculpture in the recessed area beneath the bridge is by David Smith.  Note also the small Giacometti sculpture, Walking Man II (1960), on the bridge.

This is a view from the ground level of the museum, looking toward the entrance.

This wonderful little gallery features some of the cut-outs, papiers coupes, that Matisse created during the last fifteen years of his life.

This gallery is devoted to modern American art.  My purpose here is to simply demonstrate how effective the East Wing curators are in their use of color, design, and lighting to display their collections.

Shortly after noon, I walked down the Capitol Mall and had lunch as "Metropolitan," a lovely restaurant owned and operated by the National Gallery.

After lunch, I went to the main building of the National Gallery to see a new photo exhibition: "Beat Memories: The Photography of Allen Ginsberg."  In an age of digital color, it was great to see these candid black and white photos of Ginsberg and his celebrated friends, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, and the poet, Gregory Corso.

After seeing the Ginsberg exhibit — and treating myself to a cappuccino and a wicked tart aux pommes — I left the main building of the National Gallery and headed for my car.  Just as I was leaving, however, I caught my reflection in one of the glass pyramids that can be seen in the header photo of the East Wing.  Normally, I do not take photos of myself.  I took the above photo, however, because the composition, which I just stumbled upon, seemed to be a metaphor for how we often see each other in fragmented and distorted light, half concealed and half revealed.  That leads me to why I value art so much.  I believe that art speaks a truth that words alone can never express.  "Art is a lie," said Picasso, "that makes us realize the truth."

Note of Photos:  Click on photos to enlarge for easier viewing.