Monday, 13 April 2009

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Extracted from

America’s Outback: Southern Utah

Kevin Moloney for The New York Times

Two hikers squeeze through Peek-a-Boo Canyon in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Published: April 12, 2009

IF the name Dry Fork Coyote Gulch doesn’t give fair warning that this is not your average hike, then the haunting drive to the trailhead will remove all doubt. The sandy Hole-in-the-Rock Road is one of the few routes that even attempt to enter the biblical expanse of desert in southern Utah called the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and when I made a pilgrimage there last summer, I didn’t pass a single car, let alone a sign of human habitation.

But my total isolation didn’t really strike home until I stepped from my 4x4 onto the edge of a mesa above Coyote Gulch, a ravine whose golden sandstone hides three gorgeous, narrow slot canyons. The lonely trailhead offered none of the familiar national park comforts like ranger huts or wooden welcome signs — certainly no dubious snack vendors. There was nothing but expanses of rock stretching toward the horizon, which at 10 a.m. were already glowing like embers under the intense Utah sun. Only a few stone cairns far below indicated that there was any hiking trail at all.

I gamely reminded myself that this was precisely what I’d been looking for — a landscape unchanged since 1872 — and set off into the piercing light.

I’d gone to southern Utah on the trail of an improbable outdoor adventurer — Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh, who at the ripe age of 18 joined the last great voyage of exploration in the Old West. This Gilded Age Hardy Boy made it through the raw desert in May and June 1872 with a group of amateur explorers who were hardly more qualified than himself. In his later years, Dellenbaugh traveled the world as an artist and writer, and helped to found, in 1904, the esteemed Explorers Club, now on 70th Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

But I was fascinated by his teenage adventure, largely forgotten today, when he and his friends found the first route through southern Utah’s maze of canyons, discovering the last unknown river in the continental United States, the Escalante, and the last mountain range, the Henrys. They were the first to peer into that phantasmagoric expanse of Bryce Canyon and the first to cross what is now Capitol Reef National Park.

At one particularly tricky canyon crossroad, they tried to convince a Ute Indian to act as a guide, “for the labyrinth ahead was a puzzle,” Dellenbaugh later recalled. After the man wandered off, the group pressed on anyway, trusting to their spirit and wits.

This corner of the southern Utah has since been immortalized by the painter Maynard Dixon, the novelist Zane Grey, the photographer Ansel Adams and countless Hollywood westerns. And yet, it still qualifies as the best-kept secret in the West. While millions of travelers are drawn every year to Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks, Grand Staircase-Escalante and its surrounding area offer a seemingly endless choice of natural wonders that lie blissfully forgotten and empty. It’s America’s Outback.

SHORTLY after starting the Coyote Gulch hike, I had to wonder if I might not disappear into the desert void. Back in the town of Escalante, some rangers had given me a printout of directions to the three slot canyons.

“These are unmarked routes,” it screamed in bold print. “Hikers must pay attention to landmarks so they can find their way out.”

I had lost sight of the first stone cairns almost immediately, as I stumbled down to the dry river wash at the bottom of the ravine. (“Water is scarce,” the printout helpfully noted.) After a few false leads, I made it to Peek-a-Boo Canyon, whose hard-to-spot entrance was surrounded by what looked like a shallow pool: I took a step in and sank straight up to my thighs in thick mud. As the sun continued to climb in the sky, I wished for my own Ute guide — or at least a GPS tracking system.

Hugging the canyon wall for shade, I pressed on heroically and found Spooky Canyon, named for its otherworldly atmosphere. It was only an 18-inch-wide crack in the rock, but to me it yawned like the gateway to Shangri-La.

As I squeezed inside, the air was immediately cool and fragrant. The sky appeared to be an electric blue sliver far above, and the reflected light made the golden sandstone seem to glow from within. I remained utterly still, in a lizardlike state, knowing that I couldn’t hide in there forever.

Finally, I drank the last of my water and staggered across the rock like a sun-struck character out of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” I was parched, scratched, encrusted with mud — but triumphant. Out there in Coyote Gulch, I had a sense, however distant, of what Dellenbaugh and his companions had been up against back in 1872.

Back home in Manhattan, I had often walked past the Gothic facade of the Explorers Club and thought with more than a twinge of envy of the halcyon days of travel. The club’s founders had grown up after the Civil War, when you could hop on a train from Grand Central and plunge into the West like a character from a dime novel. They were a tough bunch who set off with little more than their hobnailed boots and a month’s supply of bread and bacon.

Frederick Dellenbaugh, fresh from high school in Buffalo in 1871, heard that John Wesley Powell was looking for men to join his second expedition down the Colorado River. Powell had become a celebrity for conquering the Grand Canyon in 1869; this time, the white-water trip would be combined with the mapping of the Colorado plateau. Hundreds volunteered, but Powell liked to pick his crews from friends and relatives, and Dellenbaugh, who was connected on Powell’s brother-in-law’s side, became the expedition’s artist.

Friday, 10 April 2009

when life is good

The last few months were probably the best time of my years at oxford :) I had lots of fun and my life was more eventful than it had ever been here - as it slowly takes on a new meaning.

Siu-Po and I went to Paris :) which was a fantastic break and saw quite a bit of art and culture.

(that last one on the right corner was me and Van Gogh)

That was a memorable moment on a remarkable bridge.

colourful days :)

and nice walks along the meadows. I want to see the daffodils again...

and some snow ball games.

too much fun these days - saw two musicals too: the phantom of the opera and the les miserables. i'm going to see two operas: Acis and Galatea, and Dido and Aeneas at Covent Garden.

Quite a bit of swimming and squash :) I'm trying to keep fit and use some of my reserve.

Picked up reading again - the sheltering sky by Paul Bowles and the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I'm going to read some spanish classics - sound daunting. they have nice names: 'life is a dream' by Pedro Calderon de la Barca, and the Trickster of Seville by Tirso de Molina. Should be fun....

yes and i'm trying ** (emphasis added) to work and learn lots and lots about the law.

and i should avoid thinking too much as well. Just live in the moment ^^

Friday, 3 April 2009








【楢山節考】原是日本文學家深澤七郎的小說作品,描寫著著日本信川山區裡某個貧窮村落中所發生的故事。而故事的性質不只有點像傳說物語,其實更像警世寓 言,在某種程度上,讓我想起英國作家威廉‧高汀(William Golding)描述孩童們在孤島上展開生存鬥爭的【蒼蠅王】(The Lord of Flies),同樣有些荒謬,有點超現實,但卻也同樣殘酷真實,就彷彿真實悲劇般令人心痛和發人省思。

這篇短篇小說,先後被日本兩位大導演翻拍成電影。首先是擅長悲喜劇的木下惠介導演於1958年拍成電影《楢山節考》;接著在1983年時,由今村昌平導演 再度翻拍,同名《楢山節考》,當時報名參加坎城影展時,更獲得了最佳影片金棕櫚大獎,揚名國際。而今村昌平導演的版本,也是一般市面上較能購買到的版本。 本文所談論的,正是以今村昌平導演的電影版本為主。


《楢山節考》的開場,是一片片無涯的雪景。空拍鏡頭圍繞著白雪山頭,鏡頭以鳥瞰式的大全景包含著雪山的蒼茫和無盡,彷彿一個全知者般,暗示著一種超然的觀 點。接著鏡頭才慢慢從大遠景轉換成遠景,從遠景轉換成中景,再從中景變成近景。故事劇情正以旁觀的「祂」為觀點,慢慢展開。



今村昌平先以極度寫實的筆觸,一一刻畫著村民們的行為。不單單只是他們賣力地播種耕種、採集食物;還包括了他們為了爭奪食物(生存),而不惜偷竊、出賣自 己,甚至是販賣女兒以求溫飽的貪婪(有場戲是村民捉到有人偷竊食物,因而引起公憤,整個家族被村民滅門活埋);更涵蓋了人們於性愛的原始飢渴和發洩(還包 括人獸交)。這些赤裸裸的鏡頭,在在呈現著人性最底限的慾望「食色性也」,逼得觀眾無處可躲,不得不去正視,既殘酷又真實。

但令人驚訝的是,總被人視為罪惡或淫穢的這一切,在《楢山節考》裡,卻都擁有極其自然的畫面。鏡頭不高不低,大都平視,絲毫不帶任何批判與懷疑的眼光,也 沒有懼怕或害羞的擔憂,並在影片中不時穿插著動物的象徵,儼然講述著「人」之於「動物」本能上的等同。藉此,同時消弭了觀眾心中的既有的道德偏見和價值 觀。


男主角的母親已經69歲,雖然上了年紀,卻還是老當益壯,可以說是家裡最重要的依靠。當然,她曉得自己上山的時刻即將到來,也為此做了準備。除了傳授自己 生存的技能給後輩之外,她更刻意撞斷自己口中兩顆堅固的門牙,好讓自己看起來更老些,以讓家人調適心情接受事實。這個令人印象深刻的橋段,好比滿是愛與犧 牲的動態遺書,對比著媳婦肚裡的孩子,世代傳承的意味濃厚,也就是「必須一個人死,換一個人活」。


雖然故事悲慘,但今村昌平是位具有人道關懷意識的導演。當長子要背母親上山時,兩人皆平靜的面對事實,影片調性開始轉變,聲音沉寂了下來,僅用演員來表達 情感。──長子走著走著,腳因誤踩樹枝而受傷了,母親這時貼心地遞出布巾幫忙包紮傷勢;長子走著走著,深怕母親肚子餓,拿出了事先準備的飯糰,母親卻示意 要長子留著自己吃(因為自己終將死亡,不願意浪費糧食);當母親抵達深山後,長子在回程的途中,窺見另有一對上山的父子,父親感到恐懼於是哭喊掙扎,兒子 在慌亂中,則將父親推下山崖。

看到這一幕的長子相當震撼。此時,季節更迭,又再次下起了雪(所有人都增加了一歲),他回頭去找尋母親,看見母親靜坐在雪地上,雙手合十,彷彿一尊佛像, 再次示意要長子回去吧!兩人眼神相互對望,一個充滿堅定,一個則依依不捨。人性親情的溫柔大愛悄悄地流洩出來,讓人充滿不忍,這場戲遂成為《楢山節考》裡 最感人的一幕。


事實上,《楢山節考》的影片從冬季開始,經過春天、夏天、秋天,再次回到冬季。結束時也首尾呼應,利用鳥瞰的大遠景俯視白雪山頭。加上片尾母親安祥地回歸 山神,蛇交媾的象徵(新生), 似乎都說明著生命的死與生,不只是生命的必經過程,也是大自然生生不息的一部份。(人真的是萬物之靈嗎?《楢山節考》並非單純的悲劇。)

今 村昌平導演的《楢山節考》有著宏觀的視野和胸襟。不妄下判斷,不給予觀眾絕對的價值定見,只是靜靜地講述故事,充分讓各個角色呈現著自己的貪念、慾望、苦 衷、愛與犧牲。於是在權利和義務之間,在小愛與大愛之間,沒有絕對的優劣對錯,沒有絕對的是非善惡。這是對世間萬物難得的「尊重」(敬重)。

德國心理分析學家佛洛姆(Erich Fromm)是這麼解釋「尊重」的,他說:「尊重並不是懼怕和畏懼,它指一種能力:他人是什麼樣子,我就照他的樣子來認識他,認知他獨特的個人性。尊重的 意義是我關懷另一個人,讓他依照他自己的本然去生長,去發展。因此,尊重意涵著我對他人沒有侵占剝奪的欲望。」

以人權的觀點來看,不也正是如此嗎!社會的進步取決於強勢者對待弱勢者的方式,取決於多數人看待少數人的態度。就像《楢山節考》裡長子和母親對彼此決定的 尊重,就像整個村落對於生存條件(延續種族命脈)的尊重。縱然有爭議,有許多灰色的模糊地帶,但這些問題都將因立場的不同而無法擁有唯一的標準答案,只能 嘗試站在理解的前提下相互尊重。這正是我看完《楢山節考》後所引發的思考。