Spring. The junior high school up the street held a noisy outdoor event and in the afternoon the kids drifted home in noisy packs, first year students conspicuous in their slightly over-sized new uniforms. I can never keep track of the Japanese school system. Half the time when there’s supposed to be no school the students are at school and vise versa.
Someone (who am I kidding, obviously a woman) is beating futons, the echos ricocheting around the neighborhood. Sam is weeding the balcony garden. He complained of the big white kittycat occupying the house across the stream “caterwauling’ and I became jealous that he thought of that word. He’s not a native English speaker! He found a caterpillar and I kept misspelling “caterpillar” in this sentence until I asked him how it’s spelled and he knew. I felt inadequate until I noticed him squatting with a primitive rock tool pounding dried crab apples we had collected from the mountains last year to get the seeds and plant them. He looked like his usual paleolithic caveman self who will soon order me, communicating in grunts and gestures, to fetch libations and food and make a bath and prepare the bedchamber, etc. and then fall asleep on the sofa while watching TV. Self-adequacy resorted.
Last weekend we took a walk and enjoyed an encounter with a nightingale. A small audience gathered in front of the cherry tree where the bird was singing. Unusual to find a nightingale in the city, I was concerned it was all alone. In the countryside when I’ve heard nightingales it’s always the same little tune over and over. This one seemed to be improvising, jazz rather than a composition. It flew from one cherry tree to another, the hushed audience following. A little bird with a big voice. Then it noticed a crow perched on a power line and dove into the bushes where it remained, nervously chirping a warning. Damn crows, they ruin everything. We clapped politely for the nightingale’s performance and dispersed back to our Sunday afternoon walks.
The cherries have lost most of their blossoms and look disheveled, as if they’ve partied for a week and staggered home with smeared make-up and holes in their stockings and all they want is some alone time and an aspirin and please leave them alone now.
The azaleas are thinking about blooming, waiting for a few more warm sunny days. I picked some, ones nearest the road breathing in vehicle exhaust that perhaps wouldn’t mind being kidnapped and brought to live out their remaining short lives in my living room (I think of The Fir Tree, the Hans Christian Andersen story about the neurotic little tree that became stuck-up on account of being decorated for Christmas and everybody making a big deal over it and then getting thrown out in the trash and being sad, but these azaleas are just going to be sitting in water on the table and probably won’t develop any complexes, although they will suffer the same inevitable garbage death).
After plucking the azaleas I was looking around to make sure nobody saw and wasn’t paying attention to where I was going and tripped and fell on the sidewalk, had to walk the rest of the way home with big holes and runs in my tights and bloody knees. Instant karma. After the azalea bushes blossom the pruners come and chop everything off anyway, what is the difference, yet still I feel guilty. Then more karma happened after I strangled Sam a little for teasing me about something and immediately stubbed my toe. Maybe next time I do something I should be negatively karmad for it will be an upper body injury.
These are the final days of what’s left of winter before Spring really gets down to business. I’m nostalgic. The smell of the kerosene heater. Sweaters and tights, boots, thick wool socks: the less skin I have to show be been shown, the better, I prefer a nice coat of fir or feathers or even scales. The way a simmering pot of beans warms the room for hours, how the fragrance of roasted meats and hot pots lingers until the next day, the visible steam rising from hot coffee and how good it feels to wrap your hands around the cup. How the body burns off more calories keeping warm in the cold, allowing one to shovel more coal into the furnace with less guilt. How good it feels after walking home in the rainy dark with cold, wet feet, to shut the door and draw the drapes against the elements and appreciate buildings and electricity and private property. The whistling of the wind through poorly-made sliding doors, a lonely sound, like the sweet potato vendor’s recorded wail heard from a distance on a cold overcast afternoon. Long dark nights — daylight is too realistic, one feels like one should keep busy doing constructive activities instead of enjoyable things like napping, cuddling, reading, hibernating (winter is when one really appreciates the bed-warming advantages of spouses). The way the full moon rises behind the black silhouettes of the naked trees in the park. How one can get away with not bathing every single night — I tire of the constant grooming that goes with modern life.
Alicia Markova in John Drummond’s Speaking of Diaghilev:
“Oh, it was terribly difficult …. suddenly to be thrown into Stravinsky’s Nightingale, which at that time couldn’t be played at rehearsal by the pianist. We had to have the pianola, on the rolls. My rehearsals would be called late in the evening with Balanchine, or on Sundays, when the company were more or less resting and quiet. In the morning I would have my classes with Cecchetti and he would be instilling in me to turn out, and then I would have to come in the evenings with Balanchine, and all these wonderful modern things he was giving me, all turned in. I found that rather confusing. In which direction do I go? And I think that was the first time it was explained to me that this is the difference between being a dancer and when you start being an artist. To dance you must turn out, but to be an artist, you have got to go in any direction.
“Diaghilev said that Matisse would do a new costume for me. You can imagine, at fourteen, having a new costume designed by Matisse. It was all-over white silk tights, with large diamond bracelets on my ankles, and my arms, my wrists, and with a little white chiffon bonnet rimmed with white ospreys. It was all very modern, something to do with the Chinese legend of white being associated with death, so again confusion. That was perfect for the Paris opening, because nobody had any objections to a female appearing on-stage in all-over tights. But two years later, for the London premiere at the Prince’s Theatre … at that time it wasn’t permitted to appear like that … we had to find Matisse to have the costume adjusted. That was when he designed those little white chiffon trousers to go over the tights, studded with rhinestones, and this little tunic that went over that also to make me decent. But today, to think about these things! It was very strange.”