Sunday, October 7, 2012

Eight Yaks is Money, Yo.

This was my late Sunday afternoon a couple weeks ago:

The peaceful cafe goers of the Crazy Wisdom Tearoom are perturbed. There is one larger conference table with available plugs and seats; and one young woman seated at it, talking loudly on her cell phone. The South American flute music does nothing to mask the details of the data plan she is discussing. I have unpacked my laptop, but now hover. Would the sofa with collapsing cushions be any better? But her voice is audible everywhere in the small room. I scanned the neighboring tables. A woman pointedly cleared her throat and snapped her newspaper as she gazed at it. Another guy widened his eyes at me and thrust his hand up to one side of his face, as in, "Do you believe this shit??" People muttered to their table mates and cut their eyes in her direction. She talked about smart phones and the limits of downloads. The young counter person with fading pink hair offered to set up my rose tea* in the conference room. And so here I now sit: no people watching options here, but really quite spoiling otherwise. A sofa AND a huge table next to it. "We close at 8 PM, tonight, so you have about three hours." Psssh. If I had pajamas with me, I wouldn't leave. 

*Ok, and yes, chocolate cake. No matter how many times I opened the fridge this morning, no chocolate ever materialized.

This Sunday doesn't feel that much different, except more cold and grey. Mulligatawny stew is simmering on the stove, a cup of Korean corn silk tea is mellowing beside me and Beth Orton's newest is on repeat on Spotify.

The newly editioned "After the Snake, Before the Bite" is now up on Etsy, as of this afternoon. I'm hand-coloring the two remaining designs and should have those up soon.

Otherwise? Two of my favorite people are flying from out of town this week and I get to see them for the first time in five years! (maybe five? close)

In their honor, let's take a few moments to contemplate one of my absolute favorite bronze pieces for the Shanghai Museum. What does it have to do with them? Nothing, outside of the fact that I can not fathom them not being delighted by it...

So...I glimpsed this the first time I went to the museum, minutes before closing. It was the final straw determining that YES, despite the myriad places I hadn't had the chance to experience even once while in the city, I HAD to take another day to return.
We're almost there! Do you see it? ...No, because there are always people around it.
And why wouldn't there be, I ask you. 
Behold, Cowrie Container, with Eight Yaks.
Western Han 206 B.C. - A.D. 8
Attributed to the Dian people, from the Yunnan Province. 

The Dians' bronzes are renowned for their naturalistic approach; being an agriculturally based people, it's not surprising that animals figured in much of their sculpture, whether the items were ritualistic or more utilitarian. Since cowries shells were used as currency, this would certainly have advertised the ruler's prosperity. Of course to me, it's the idea that metalworkers, or those who commissioned the work, were like, "Okaaay, another cowrie container...Yaks! Yes, I see it now: there must be yaks. Six --no-- EIGHT of them. And the handles must be tigers."  
And it's not just that they're done *well* but that each yak has a personality. Unlike the more cartoony tiger handles, these are completely believable as animals. Some seem garrulous, others resolute, and at least one, timid. It's a different story from every angle. To see them in the round, in all their wonderful specificity, they amount to more than the sum of eight parts. It feels more like a proper herd.

He couldn't stop laughing.

Of course, to assume that their depiction on such vessels automatically indicates their beloved status in society would be a bit naive. And indeed, an interesting article from Anthropoetics (The Journal of Generative Anthropology) tells us that from their excavations in the Yunnan, they determined that: "oxen were not used to plough the fields nor to pull carts, but as sacrificial domestic animals, sources of food, and symbols of property, wealth, and power, whence their appearance on the lids of bronze vessels made to contain seashells. There are also war scenes, slaves weaving ... [on similar vessels]."

For a fascinating break-down of another vessel, which depicts "human sacrifice, animal sacrifice, and communal feasting" on its lid and somehow crams 125+ human figures and numerous domestic animals, click here

Pillow with 5 Yaks suffered from proximity. Only five? Really?
I don't know, I'd probably go with down anyway...

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