If I had to paint the couple of days spent in Tainan at the end of January, I would use a red suffused with light , not fading but almost wishing to be a pastel, a soft blue paste and a tinge of very delicate gold for the light. Then, of course to be accurate and complete, one would need a good dose of green, as usual in Taiwan, and a hint clapboard brown for the old Japanese houses here and there. Yet a painting is two-dimensional, so it would leave out the smell of lavender freshly baked cookies and the sound of drums at the local god saturday parade and, most unfortunately, that sticky touch of the sea.
Tainan used to be Taiwan’s capital and has an organic way of spreading out and a number of temples and buildings left by the different ages.
It would take a full week (at least) to savour the different things, so one day wandering in a fresh winter eager to turn to spring just leaves you the wish to come again.
I started exploring with the Confucius temple; the place is very sober and discrete and its true elegance comes from the filled and empty spaces, a hint of decoration here on the roof then contrasted andsupported by a smooth painted pillar, tall doors filtering light through, the square main hall in the middle of void white courtyard, the abundant new mangoes burdened trees leaning over the side corridors. it is a constant dance of what is there and what is not, left for your eyes to wander and fill the space.
The last picture shows some elegant and playful carvings, amazing pieces of art . Confucius temple is serene and invites meditation but the sinous, fluid craftwork evokes a certain fairylike atmosphere, as if one could not indulge in seriousness too long.
To me, Tainan masterpiece of a fairy world, where you would hang out for hours wishing to enter the intricate foliage, feel the rustling of deers and birds, is Matsu Temple to me; see for example some of the carvings here and see if you would not want to get lost inside of them.
Maybe because it had been a Palace, Matsu Temple retains an aura of garden of delights: when you hang out there for a while, the painting and the wood sculptures almost take life and you can feel in another world. Plutarchus said something like this: the interest of religion is to share the partying, the best part of life, the wellwishing with our families and fellow men, the aspirations and the trust to good benevolent gods looking over us. The Greek philosopher was rebuking superstitions like the envy of the gods frequent in his countrymen, but at the same time he captured one of the reasons why I think it is appealing to visit temples in other countries and cultures: the communal sharing of a vision of a happy world mirrored here on earth, and of course the beautiful works of men that try to tell how heaven is like via their carvings and paintimgs and visions.
On a total different tone is the Guandi Temple, god of war or of the Righteous Brotherhoods ( that include policemen and gansters alike).
The atmosphere is very different and resounds with a wordlier intent. I love to see that among the many weapons, there is a pen: like we say in Italy, you “kill” (metaphorically, let’s be clear) more with it than with a sword. Although the town layout may have been different in the past, the location of this temple today seems to master the unfolding of Tainan town overlooking a square, leaning over an intricate maze of little alleys on one side, turning its back to the Chikan Towers and then, above all letting his red flank be admired against the blue sky. Standing there the temple seems to say that discretly and firmly it is in full control of the life of his town. Yet inside another life in none less noisy and vibrant unfolds , with again intricate woodcarving to be discerned little by little, lovely roofs, angles, doors, pavillions and corners to sit in the afternoon.