December 20, 2014

Persimmons in the snow

Filed under: Japan — theresaurus @ 11:38 pm







Lynn Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves:

“In 1885, Anton Chekhov wrote a Christmas short story called The Exclamation Mark.  In the light parody of A Christmas Carol, a collegiate secretary named Perekladin has a sleepless night on Christmas Eve after someone at a party offends him by casting aspersions on his ability to punctuate in an educated way. … At the party, the rattled Perekladin insists that, despite his lack of a university education, forty years practice has taught him how to use punctuation, thank you very much.  But that night, after he goes to bed, he is troubled; and then he is haunted.

“Scrooge-like, he is visited … by a succession of spectres, which teach him a lesson he will never forget.  And what are these spectres?  They are all punctuation marks … and the first to disturb Perekladin’s sleep is a crowd of fiery, flying commas, which Perekladin banishes by repeating the rules he knows for using them.  Then come full stops; colons and semi-colons; question marks.  Again, he keeps his head and sends them away.  But then a question mark unbends itself, straightens up — and Perekladin realizes he is stumped.  In forty years he has had no reason to use an exclamation mark!

“He has no idea what it is for.  The inference for the reader is clear: nothing of any emotional significance has ever happened to Perekladin.  Nothing relating, in any case, to the ‘delight, indignation, joy, rage and other feelings’ an exclamation mark is in the business of denoting. … What can poor Perekladin do?  When he hails a cab on Christmas Day, he spots immediately that the driver is an exclamation mark. … At the home of his ‘chief’, the doorman is another exclamation mark.

“It is time to take a stand — and, signing himself into the visitors book … Perekladin suddenly sees the way.  Defiantly he writes his name … and adds three exclamation marks, ‘!!!’  And … he felt delight and indignation, he was joyful and he seethed with rage.  ‘Take that, take that!’ he muttered, pressing down hard on the pen.  And the phantom exclamation mark disappears.”

December 19, 2014

World Heritage site Shirakawa-go and Mt. Hakusan

Filed under: Japan — theresaurus @ 1:46 pm

From the tourist brochure:

Gassho style architecture is unique even among Japanese farmhouses.  The ground story of the houses is constructed of heavy timber posts and beams connected by traditional wood joinery techniques.  The upper two and three stories of the house are located within a steeply sloped roof of approximately 60 degrees framed by a series of triangular shaped heavy timber frames.  Flexible, thin wood sticks are attached to intermediate wood members that span between the heavy wooden frames.  The attic spaces of the Gassho houses were well suited to the raising of silk worms; silk being one of the major agri-industrial products of Japan’s early modern period.

During the Edo period, pits under the ground floor were used to produce niter, one of the main ingredients of gun powder. … It is ironic that niter, an essential ingredient of gunpowder, was produced in a large quantity in this peaceful setting.  In fact, the village of Gokayama was at one time the leading producer of niter in Japan.  It seems odd that such a quiet place would play a significant role in the production of gunpowder until you understand that niter was used as a substitute form of tax payment since the villages could not grow enough rice to pay their taxes to the authorities.  The form of the houses and the lifestyle of the inhabitants were shaped not only by the extremes of nature but also by the social demands of the society of the time.

The area surrounding Shirakawa-go has many natural assets that complement the village’s cultural asset of Gassho style houses. … A virgin forest covers a large area of Mt. Hakusan, providing the habitat for many types of wildlife including bear, antelope, monkey, rabbit, fox, and raccoon.  The clear waters of area streams and rivers is home to abundant fish.

In the fall … villagers begin to prepare for winter.  Firewood is stacked under the eaves of houses and fence-like reed enclosures are placed along the perimeter of the houses to protect the walls and the entrances from drifting snow and from snow falling from the roof.  Winter arrives early and lasts long in Shirakawa-go.




























From Karen Tei Yamashita’s Circle K Cycles:

“We recently visited the very traditional village of Shirakawa, where all the houses are 200 years old and have thatch roofs.  Also special to this area is the mountain cooking, which includes fern sprouts, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms gathered from the mountainside.  Curious, we visited a factory that packages these mountain veggies because we had heard that a Brazilian family worked there.  As it turns out, all the materials for this local specialty are imported from China and Russia, and have been for the last twelve years.  To use the local produce would be far too expensive.  So there you have it, unknown to thousands of tourists who pass this way, the packages of mountain vegetables bought as omiyage come from China and Russia and are made and packaged by Brazilians.”

December 18, 2014

Nutcracker ballet anniversary

Filed under: books — theresaurus @ 11:37 pm

My elderly one-legged Nutcracker Christmas ornament.  When you pull his ass-string his arms and legs move but he’s paralyzed on one side.  There is no holiday tree from which to hang him.  He is the only ornament I have left.  He is alone.


The ballet premiered on December 18, 1892 at the Maryinsky Theater.

From Solomon Volkov’s Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky:

“The son of Eduard Napravnik, musical director of the Maryinsky Theater, reminisced about how Tchaikovsky composed The Nutcracker:  ‘Sometimes at lunch Tchaikovsky would say that he was pleased with his work, other times he would complain that the work wasn’t going well, that he was all ‘written out.’  Once Tchaikovsky said that at first he had been afraid to write music for ballets because of the strict demands of the ballet master, who would firmly set the number of measures for each dance.  But now, Tchaikovsky said, he felt that such ironclad parameters made composing even more interesting for him.’

“Hermann Laroche wrote in a review of Tchaikovsky’s ballet:  ‘Say what you will against children’s fairy tales, you cannot deny that we fell in love with them as children and that they have become part of our psyche.  You cannot deny that fairy tales contain some of the profoundest ideas that concern mankind.  And it is a fact that in our eyes so-called children’s stories are becoming more and more stories for adults, revealing their profound significance.’

“Tchaikovsky wrote to the director of the Imperial Theaters:  ‘The second act of Nutcracker can be produced very effectively — but it requires delicate filigree work.’  Laroche stated:  ‘At the end of Nutcracker the authors have created a colorful ethnographic exhibit (Spanish, Arabian, Chinese dances, the Russian trepak, and the French polka and contredanse).  In order to write these dances, Tchaikovsky did not indulge in musical archaeology, he did not bury himself in a museum or library, he wrote the music he felt like writing.  And, for instance, his Chinese dancers got by without any signs of Chinese music.  The results were delightful.'”

December 17, 2014

Second snow

Filed under: books — theresaurus @ 11:31 pm


From Mark Russ Federman’s Russ & Daughters, Reflections and Recipes from the House That Herring Built:

“Older customers who came from Eastern Europe told me that the traditional Yom Kippur break-fast used to be nothing more than a piece of schmaltz herring and shot of schnapps.  The herring quickly put some salt into the fasting body, and the schnapps was for … everything else.  Pulling a herring or two or three from the barrel — the cost was three for a quarter in the early 1920s — and wrapping it in a Yiddish newspaper didn’t take very long.

“I have to admit it, our customers are a creative bunch.  Especially when it comes to devising excuses for jumping the line during the holidays.  … My mother just died.  It was true, but what does that have to do with buying herring?  I have a patient waiting on the operating table.  A favorite of many doctors past and present.  Nice try, but it doesn’t work.

“At some point when I wasn’t looking, Christmas and New Year’s became Jewish holidays.  The same number of customers coming in, the same amount of fish going out.  I guess I had my head down, slicing and filleting, when it turned out that you don’t have to be Jewish to love our food. … And just for Christmas and New Year’s we have an express line: the caviar express line. …  Those who want smoked fish, herring, bagels, or all of the above must, as always, take a number and wait. … I watched him wait on a rather distinguished-looking gentleman who asked for several hundred dollars’ worth of osetra caviar. … The caviar was brought out and packed on ice, and then I heard the gentleman ask Christopher, almost in a whisper, if it would be possible for him to also buy six plain bagels.  Christopher, knowing full well that the caviar express line was only for caviar sales, looked over to me to see if I would grant his customer some papal in-law dispensation.  I did.  The customer was extremely pleased and thankful.  Then, as he turned to leave, he said, ‘I only bought the caviar so that I wouldn’t have to take a number and wait on line for the bagels.'”

December 16, 2014

It is cold

Filed under: Uncategorized — theresaurus @ 11:19 pm

And trees are bare.


Wassily Kandinsky’s birthday.  From Concerning the Spiritual in Art:

“Letting one’s eyes wander over a palette laid out with colors has two main results.  There occurs a purely physical effect, i.e., the eye itself is charmed by the beauty and other qualities of the color.  The spectator experiences a feeling of satisfaction, of pleasure, like a gourmet who has a tasty morsel in his mouth.  Or the eye is titillated, as is one’s palate by a highly spiced dish.  It can also be calmed or cooled again, as one’s finger can when it touches ice.

“The second main consequence of the contemplation of color, i.e., the the psychological effect of color.  … Since in general the soul is closely connected to the body, it is possible that one emotional response may conjure up another corresponding form of emotion by means of association.   For example, the color red may cause a spiritual vibration like flame, since red is the color of flame.   A warm red has a stimulating effect and can increase in intensity until it induces a painful sensation, perhaps also because of its resemblance to flowing blood.  This color can thus conjure up the memory of another physical agent, which necessarily exerts a painful effect upon the soul.  If this were the case … one might assume that bright yellow produces a sour effect by analogy with lemons.

“A Dresden doctor tells how one of his patients … found that a certain sauce had a ‘blue’ taste, i.e., it affected him like the color blue.  …  Many colors have an uneven, prickly appearance, while others feel smooth, like velvet, so that one wants to stroke them (dark ultramarine, chrome-oxide green, madder).  Even the distinction between cold and warm tones depends upon this sensation.  There are also colors that appear soft (madder), others that always strike one as hard (cobalt green, green-blue oxide), so that one might mistake them for already dry when freshly squeezed from the tube.”

December 15, 2014

I bought oysters

Filed under: Uncategorized — theresaurus @ 11:41 pm


From Anton Chekhov’s Oysters:

“I need no great effort of memory to recall, in every detail, the rainy autumn evening when I stood with my father in one of the more frequented streets of Moscow; and felt that I was gradually being overcome by a strange illness. … If I had been taken to a hospital at that minute, the doctors would have had to write over my bed, Fames, a disease which is not in the manuals of medicine.

“Before us was a big house of three stories, adorned with a blue sign board with the word ‘Restaurant’ on it. … ‘Oysters’ I made out on the placard.  A strange word! … ‘Papa, what does ‘oysters’ mean?’ … ‘It is an animal … that lives in the sea.’

“I instantly pictured to myself this unknown marine animal. … I thought it must be something midway between a fish and a crab.  As it was from the sea they made of it, of course, a very nice hot fish soup with savory pepper and laurel leaves, or broth with vinegar and fricassee of fish and cabbage, or crayfish sauce, or served it cold with horse-radish.

“‘They are eaten alive,’ said my father.  ‘They are in shells like tortoises, but … in two halves.’  ‘How nasty!’  I imagined to myself a creature like a frog.  A frog sitting in a shell, peeping from it with big, glittering eyes, and moving its revolting jaws.

“The children would all hide while the cook, frowning with an air of disgust, would take the creature by its claws, put it on a plate, and carry it into the dining-room.  The grown-ups would take it and eat it, eat it alive with its eyes, its teeth, its legs!  I shuddered at the thought of them, but I wanted to eat!  To eat!

“‘Oysters! Give me some oysters!’ was the cry that broke from me and I stretched out my hand.  ‘Do you mean to say you eat oysters?  A little chap like you!’  I heard laughter close to me. …  I remember that a strong hand dragged me into the lighted restaurant.  A minute later there was a crowd round me; watching me with curiosity and amusement.  I sat at a table and ate something slimy, salt with a flavor of dampness and moldiness.  I ate greedily without chewing, without looking and trying to discover what I was eating.  I fancied that if I opened my eyes, I should see glittering eyes, claws, and sharp teeth.

“All at once I was biting something hard … .  ‘Ha, ha!  He is eating the shells!’ laughed the crowd. …  After that I remember a terrible thirst.  I was lying in my bed, and could not sleep for heartburn and the strange taste in my parched mouth. … Towards morning I fell asleep and dreamt of a frog sitting in a shell, moving its eyes.”

December 14, 2014

Advent calendar

Filed under: books — theresaurus @ 11:37 pm

I was ridiculously excited to see Advent calendars in a gift shop in Sam’s hometown, and 20% off, too: only ¥320!


From Dostoyevsky’s The House of the Dead:

“The holidays were approaching.  On the eve of the great day the convicts scarcely ever went to work. … Towards evening the old soldiers, who executed the convicts’ commissions, brought for them all kinds of victuals — meat, suckling pigs, and geese.  Many prisoners, even the most simple and economical, after saving up their kopecks throughout the year, thought they ought to spend some of them this day, so as to celebrate Christmas Eve in a worthy manner.

“Through the little windows of our barracks, half hidden by the snow and the ice, could be seen, flaming in the darkness, the bright fire of the two kitchens where six stoves had been lighted. …  It was beginning to get late.  The stars were paling, a light, icy mist was rising from the earth, and spirals of smoke were ascending in curls from the chimneys.

“The cooks were preparing the dinner which was to take place a little earlier than usual. … The cooks were wanted in order to receive gifts brought from all parts of the town in enormous numbers: loaves of white bread, scones, rusks, pancakes, and pastry of various kinds. … Amongst those gifts there were some magnificent ones, including a good many cakes of the finest flours.  There were also some very poor ones, such as rolls worth two kopecks a piece, and a couple of brown rolls, covered lightly with sour cream.  These were the offerings of the poor to the poor.

“The Commandant was liked, even respected.  He made the tour of the barracks in company with the Mayor, wishing the convicts a happy Christmas, went into the kitchen, and tasted the cabbage soup.  It was excellent that day.  Every convict was entitled to nearly a pound of meat, besides which there was millet-seed in it, and certainly the butter had not been spared. … I could never understand how, five minutes after the Mayor left, there was a mass of drunken prisoners, whereas as long as he remained every one was perfectly calm. … Red radiant faces were now numerous, and the balalaiki soon appeared.”

December 13, 2014

First snow

Filed under: Uncategorized — theresaurus @ 11:03 pm


December 10, 2014

Crows and persimmons

Filed under: Uncategorized — theresaurus @ 11:22 pm






December 6, 2014

Another winter beer

Filed under: Uncategorized — theresaurus @ 11:39 pm


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