October 18, 2010

Dark Bird in the Day of the Double Nines

Dark Bird on The Day of the Double Nine

The picture of the bird at right is a charcoal drawing that I made recently from an observation of one of the prize roosters at the South Carolina Fair. Because I drew him from life and he was a very active chicken, I was precluded from adding many accurate details. It is more a portrait of an impression of this remarkable creature - as they all were. This one was drawn with black charcoals and white chalk on a piece of orange paper - suitable for the October Halloween season. I’m not particularly fond of using charcoal. It is messy, dusty and difficult to control. But it also goes very black and can have a nice velvety effect in a drawing. The bird that inspired this drawing was one of the Polish chickens I saw at the County Fair, and again at the South Carolina State Fair. I do believe that some of these chickens were making the circuit from County to State competition. Can the run for National Chicken of the Year be far behind?

I had originally intended to write a China story to go with this picture. The story was about the Manchurian coal and factory town of Changchun, where I lived with my husband in 1983. But it will have to wait for a future post. In the mean time it is tucked away in one of the chapters of my book Another Soul. Instead, this writing recalls something closer to home yet reminiscent of China.

Things did not go as well as I had hoped at the State Fair on Saturday, October 16. It took a long time to get there, I had a flaming sore throat the whole time, and my photographs came out blurry from the low light exposure (They are still usable but will have to be filled in by painter’s imagination). What compensated me for the trouble was the opportunity to have an outing in the good company of a lady friend and my husband. The weather was fairly nice and the exhibits were fun and captivating. Oddly, the two lady artists in our group spent more time looking at the beautiful colors and patterns found in feathers and fur than we did looking at the art exhibition. In part this can be attributed to our running out of time. We had agreed to meet up with my husband, who had gone into Columbia to sit in a quiet cafĂ© and grade papers instead of enjoy the fair, at the front gate at 6:45 PM. 6:30 PM rolled around quite unexpectedly as we were admiring a particularly decorative bird with an explosion of colors on his wings that looked like the intricately woven patterns of a Persian Carpet.

So in a mad fifteen minute dash we ran through the art exhibition, pausing briefly to admire my painting on paper “Multi-Tasking Mania,” and Nat’s photograph of large yellow floats on a shrimp boat. We then waited outside to meet up. We waited ten minutes, fifteen minutes, then thirty minutes but our ride did not arrive. Forty-five minutes later my flustered husband arrived on foot explaining that he had been in gridlock traffic and had to park about a half mile away. So we trekked out on this cool autumn evening that was a mixture of unfinished business, glorious discoveries, and mishaps. After dinner in Columbia and a late return home I was at least partially resolved to trying the State Fair again. The chickens were still calling to me and I was still curious about all the art I missed.

The next day I was nursing a cold while doing lesson plans for an upcoming residency in Beaufort. The program I was planning included highlights from Chinese language and culture. I decided to check the lunar calendar for upcoming Chinese holidays that I could introduce. I was amused when I found out that Saturday, October 16, was the Day of the Double Nines. Chong Jiu Jie, falls on the ninth day of the ninth moon in the lunar calendar. Because odd numbers are yang (forces that are male, fire, light heat etc), the double nine is a very heavy yang day. It is therefore a day of imbalance during which precautions must be taken to guard against injury and illness. It is difficult for me to read about deeply ingrained superstitions and not start thinking of the possible concordances with real life experience. Of course the superstition made perfect sense to me and it was easy to redefine our own day of the double nines by imbalance; a fire of a sore throat, too many fire birds and not enough watery art, a long wait on a cold night. Obviously we should not have had the representatives of the Yin (the women) separated from the Yang (the man). Otherwise he would have most certainly not ended up caught in traffic. Had we known better we should have all done the traditional thing and eaten cakes while drinking chrysanthemum tea. Next year we’ll be prepared.

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