May 31, 2012

May, 2012

Filed under: books — theresaurus @ 12:28 pm

From The Diary of Anais Nin, 1931-1934:

“Never have I seen as clearly as tonight that my diary-writing is a vice. I came home worn out by magnificent talks with Henry at the cafe. I glided into my bedroom, closed the curtains, threw a log into the fire, lit a cigarette, pulled the diary out of its last hiding place under my dressing table, threw it on the ivory silk quilt, and prepared for bed. I had the feeling that this is the way an opium smoker prepares for his opium pipe. For this is the moment when I relive my life in terms of a dream, a myth, an endless story.”

From the blog of Theresaurus, 2012:

Never have I seen as clearly as tonight that my blog-writing is a vice. I came home worn out by insignificant talks with myself at the supermarket. I trudged into my living room, opened the windows, threw a book at a cockroach, lit a mosquito coil, opened the computer where it sits in its usual place on the dining table, logged on to the Internet, and prepared for blogging. I had the feeling that this is the way an opium smoker prepares for his opium pipe. For this is the moment when I relive my life in terms of a bad dream, a miss, an endlessly dull story.

The Diary of Anais Nin:

“Late at night. I am in Louvenciennes. I am sitting by the fire in my bedroom. The heavy curtains are drawn. The room feels heavy and deeply anchored in the earth. One can smell the odors of the wet trees, the wet grass outside. They are blown in by the wind through the chimney. The walls are a yard thick, thick enough to dig bookcase into them, beside the bed. The bed is wide and low. Henry called my house a laboratory of the soul.”

The blog of Theresaurus:

Late at night. I am in Nagoya. I am sitting in front of my computer in the living room. The windows are open. The room feels feels light and suspended six floors above the earth. One can smell the odors of the wet trees from the park, tabacco smoke from outside. They are blown in by the wind through the screen door. It is raining and my laundry still hangs out on the balcony. One hopes the neighbors do not see. The wall are thick, but not thick enough to prevent overhearing an argument next door. Yet one cannot make out the words, even with one’s ear pressed to the wall. My burgundy leather armchair is low and comfortable. It is Swedish. It was on sale, half price. Sam calls this apartment a laboratory of dust and molds.

Doing Battle

Filed under: books — theresaurus @ 11:44 am

From Paul Fussell’s Doing Battle, The Making of a Skeptic:

“The wartime idolizing of the common man was beginning to grate on me, and I welcomed Mencken’s comment on George Washington: ‘He had no belief in the infallible wisdom of the common people, but regarded them as inflammatory dolts, and tried to save the Republic from them.’ … Mencken alerted me to the applling ugliness of the America that men had built, the positive ‘Libido for the Ugly’ presiding here, the love  of the unbeautiful apparently for its own sake. For twenty-five miles out of Pittsburgh, Mencken notes, the traveler by train is confronted only by sights that ‘insult and lacerate the eye.’ Conclusion: ‘Out of the melting pot emerges a race which hates beauty as it hates truth.’

“‘The most extreme experience a human being can go through,’ says historian Stephen Ambrose, ‘is being a combat infantryman.’ Part of that experience involves, of course, intense fear, long continued. But another part requires a severe closing-off of normal human sympathy so that you can look dry-eyed and undisturbed at the most appalling things. … I was beginning to understand what a marine sergeant told Philip Caputo during the Vietnam War: ‘Before you leave here, Sir, you’re going to learn that one of the most brutal things in the world is your average nineteen-year-old American boy.’

“Experience brought me to the clear-eyed view of military historian Russell Weigley: ‘The American army of World War II habitually filled the ranks of its combat infantry with its least promising recruits, the uneducated, the unskilled, the unenthusiastic.’ … I have speculated since why no one at the time seemd to care terribly. Perhaps the reason is that the bulk of those killed by bullets and shells were the ones normally killed in peacetime in mine disasters, industrial and construction accidents, lumbering, and fire and police work. No one we knew, certainly. Wasn’t the ground war, for the United States, an unintended form of eugenics, clearing the population of the dumbest, the least skilled, the least promising of all young American males?

“I was angry at the whole postwar atmosphere of public misrepresentation and fatuous optimism, the widespread feeling that the war had produced good for the United States, with good defined as people’s ability to buy new cars and refrigerators. So what if 85 million people had been killed, most of them civilians? Here, no one had been bombed, eviscerated, burned to death, raped, and torn apart. Here, the war was now largely represented almost as a source of fun, for which act national euphemism became necessary: the War Department was euphemized into the Department of Defense, the armaments and war budget became the defense budget, and soon air strikes — later, surgical air strikes — would replace the bombing of women and children. Public rhetoric was growing indistinguishable from commercial advertising, and I came to regard both as the cynical manipulation of the weak of mind by the cunning and the avaricious. Increasingly the country seemed managed not by an elected government but by the National Association of Manufacturers, abetted by the Central Intelligence Agency, forcing anyone of energetic conscience to embrace the role of enemy.”

May 30, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — theresaurus @ 7:07 am

It was Memorial Day in the States last Monday. Remembering the war dead, but I have a feeling only from the big wars. Go back to the beginning of empire building. The U.S. declared war against Spain to get their hands on the Philippines (600,000 Filipinos died fighting against America for their independence), Puerto Rico, Guam and Cuba. Then the U.S. overthrew Queen Liliuokalani in Hawaii and turned the islands into a Navy base and Dole and Del Monte plantations. Between 1898 and 1934, American soldiers invaded Cuba four times, Nicaragua five times, Honduras seven times, the Dominican Republic four times, Haiti twice (when Haiti was invaded in 1915, 50,000 Haitians were killed), Guatemala once, Panama twice, Mexico three times, Colombia four times.

Then World War I. The American ambassador to England said that the U.S. declared war on Germany because it was “the only way of maintaining our present pre-eminent trade status.” 130, 274 American soldiers died. General Smedly Butler after the war: “Our boys were sent off to die with beautiful ideals painted in front of them. No one told them that dollars and cents were the real reason they were marching off to war to kill and die. … I spent 33 years and 4 months in active military service … And during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”

Cold War: U.S. intervened militarily in foreign countries more than 200 times. Korean War: 53,000 American soldiers dead. Dominican Republic: Americans invade in 1965, 3,000 Dominicans dead. Vietnam, two million people, mostly civilians, die in the Indochina war. Almost 60,000 Americans dead, 300,000 wounded. Lebanon, Grenada., Libya. The first Gulf War: adviser to G.H.W. Bush in Time magazine in May 1990: “Even a dolt understands the principle — we need the oil.”

The events of the last ten years go without saying. A whole new generation of veterans because the guys with the best cigars and luggage wanted more money. Really, when you get down to it, the second world war is the only half-way good excuse for all this American warmongering.

This my uncle on the cover of Life magazine when he was a 23 year old senior at the University of Iowa in 1947, one of  6,000 war veteran students there (photographs are by Margaret Bourke-White). He was a pilot in the war, flew a B-17 Flying Fortress on over 25 missions over Germany and France, according to the information in the magazine. My mother was a teenager during the war but seemed to recollect nothing at all about it. Whenever the mention of her brother came up, she got weepy and only said how different he was after the war, that he didn’t smile much anymore.

The article says that half of all college students are war veterans: “The changes they have brought about are immediately visible in sights like that above — a veteran taking his baby for a walk across the campus. The trailer camps, the Quonset huts, the rows of temporary barracks and the laundry lines at Iowa can be seen on almost any U.S. campus. But the changes go deeper than this. Teachers find themselves dealing with a new kind of student, who is having a real and sobering effect on higher education. The veteran student is poor and hard-working. He has been around enough to make subjects like geography tough to teach. He wants a fast, business-like education and is doing his best to see that he gets it. He is getting better grades than the non-veteran and has forced higher standards on everyone else.

“Three million more veterans have indicated that they will take the educational training offered them under the G.I. Bill of Rights. … Almost half of the veterans would not have been able to come to college without government help. … Sixty-seven per cent had above above-average grades. This surprising fact, borne out at other universities, may have a profound effect on higher education. It is social wastage, educators reason, to have inferior students with money go to college at the expense of superior students without money. They are beginning to advocate a permanent system of federal scholarships for students of high intelligence but low means.”

May 29, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — theresaurus @ 4:13 am

I found these at the farmer’s market last weekend. A farmer decided to grow them, I’m amazed. This is pretty exotic, even I don’t know what to do with them. The farmer had posted a picture and recipe of what seemed to be a stir-fry. I think I’ll just try it raw.

May 28, 2012

Potato Salad

Filed under: Uncategorized — theresaurus @ 7:24 am

From Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking:

“There is no such thing as really bad potato salad.  So long as the potatoes are not undercooked, it all tastes pretty good to me. … When I was young, potato salad was considered summer food.  My mother made her mother’s version, which included chopped celery and catsup in the dressing.  It was known as pink potato salad and was served at picnics and barbecues as an accompaniment to fried or grilled chicken.   No one would ever have thought of serving it in a formal setting.  Once I was out on my own and could cook to please myself, I figured that since I loved potato salad so much, other people did, too.  I began to serve it to my friends at dinner parties.  ‘Oh, potato salad,’ they would say.  ‘I haven’t had any homemade in years!’  I gave it to them with thin sliced, peppery flank steak, and with cold roast chicken in the summer and hot roast chicken in the winter.  For a while I turned my back on the old-fashioned kind and began to branch out. … But time after time I returned to my old standby: potatoes, scallions, and dill.  I must confess that I have never used homemade mayonnaise for this.  I use Hellman’s, cut with lemon juice.

“I have a friend, a man in his seventies who fled Vienna on the even of World War II and ended up in Bogota, who once every two years comes to New York. When I first met him, I invited him for dinner.
‘What would you like me to cook?’  I asked him.
‘I am a meat and potatoes man,’ he said.  ‘I want hamburgers and that wonderful American potato salad.’
I said I did not approve of cooking hamburgers at home — that they were strictly restaurant food — but that I would make meat loaf.  I told him that I made an especially good potato salad.
He appeared one July evening, dressed in a woolly sport coat.  We begged him to take it off and he did, revealing a pair of snappy-looking suspenders.  Thus liberated, he sat down to dinner.  I watched anxiously, wondering what this feinschmecker would make of my potato salad.
‘What do you think?’ I said.  I thought it almost perfect: creamy, oniony with just a jolt of vinegar.
‘This is not at all what I had in mind!’ he said forcefully.
‘What do you mean?’ I said.  ‘This is an A-plus American potato salad.’
‘I did not say it wasn’t delicious,’ he said.  ‘It is just not the potato salad I was thinking of.’
‘And what potato salad were you thinking of?’
‘What they serve in the delicatessen around the corner from my hotel,’ he said.  I knew the place.  It was a Greek coffee shop.
‘But Dr. Hecht,’ I said, ‘that stuff is made in five-hundred-gallon drums and sent all over the city.’
‘Exactly!’ he said.  ‘It tastes the same wherever I go.  That is its charm.’
He ate three helpings of mine, which mollified me enough to get me to admit that I like the coffee shop variety myself.”

I prefer potato salad made with A-plus American buttermilk dressing, not mayonnaise. Here in Japan, though, the cupboards are bare, buttermilk-dressing-wise. I make do with yogurt. I strain a carton of it until it firms up, then add dry mustard, celery seeds, salt, sugar, onion powder or flakes, the smallest pinch of garlic powder or flakes, lots of freshly ground black pepper, parsley, chives, and occasionally dill or basil. Potatoes are boiled until done, cubed, and while hot doused in pickle juice that the potato quickly absorbs. The yogurt dressing is added to the cool potatoes along with green onions, white or red onions, and pickles. It’s always better the next day. A tart potato salad is an essential accompaniment to fried or barbecued chicken, this is obvious.

The other day I was watching an American talk show and the panel was making fun of a famous celebrity on a TV reality show who demands certain items be available in her dressing room. It wasn’t the six cases of Diet Coke, the 12 Snickers candy bars, or the 10 bags of Doritos the panel thought was bad. It was the request for chicken and potato salad. Potato salad, they said, what is that, her last meal? A picnic? They’d be too embarrassed to even tell anybody they wanted potato salad, they’d have someone sneak it in, and if you actually wanted to eat potato salad you have a real problem. I was extremely offended on behalf of potato salad. I suppose it is considered by those hoping to be urban and hip and cool as a relic of vulgar rural foodways, something only someone’s grandma in Badger Falls, Iowa, still makes by hand, or that beer-bellied men named Bubba enjoy with barbecued meats in the South. Perhaps it’s some prejudice against mayonnaise. I don’t know. But I do know, like Laurie Colwin did, that guests always appreciate a homemade potato salad.

May 27, 2012

The Kiso River from a bridge in Nakatsugawa, Gifu prefecture

Filed under: Japan, photo — theresaurus @ 11:43 pm

Anniversary of the first performance of Sacre

Filed under: books — theresaurus @ 11:25 pm

From Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas:

“When the Making of Americans was finished, Gertrude Stein began another which also was to be long and which she called A Long Gay Book but it did not turn out to be long … .  … I like cooking.  I am an extremely good five-minute cook, and beside, Gertrude Stein liked from time to time to have me make american dishes.  One sunday evening I was very busy preparing one of these and then I called Gertrude Stein to come in from the atelier for supper.  … Here, I want to show you something, she said.  No I said it has to be eaten hot.  No, she said, you have to see this first.  Gertrude Stein never likes her food hot and I do like mine hot, we never agree about this.  She admits that one can wait to cool it but one cannot heat it once it is on a plate so it is agreed that I have it served as hot as I like.  In spite of my protests and the food cooling I had to read.  … Finally I read it all and was terribly pleased.  And then we ate our supper.  This was the beginning of the long series of portraits. She has written portraits of practically everybody she has known, and written them in all manners and in all styles.

“Florence Bradley asked us to go with her to see the second performance of the Sacre du Printemps.  The russian ballet had just given the first performance of it and it had made a terrible uproar.  All Paris was excited about it.  We went early to the russian ballet, these were the early great days of the russian ballet with Nijinsky as the great dancer.  And a great dancer he was.  Dancing excites me tremendously and it is a thing I know a great deal about I have seen three very great dancers.  My geniuses seem to run in threes, but that is not my fault, it happens to be a fact.  The three really great dancers I have seen are the Argentina, Isadora Duncan and Nijinsky.

“The performance began.  No sooner had it commenced when the excitement began.  The scene now so well known with its brilliantly coloured background now not at all extraordinary, outraged the Paris audience.  No sooner did the music begin and the dancing when they began to hiss.  The defenders began to applaud.  We could hear nothing, as a matter of fact I never did hear any of the music of the Sacre du Printemps because it was the only time I ever saw it and one literally could not, throughout the whole performance, hear the sound of music.  The dancing was very fine and that we could see although our attention was constantly distracted by a man in the box next to us flourishing his cane, and finally in a violent altercation with an enthusiast in the box next to him, his cane came down and smashed the opera hat the other had just put on in defiance.  It was all incredibly fierce.”

May 25, 2012

Because I had the money to leave and the desire to leave at the same time

Filed under: books — theresaurus @ 11:41 pm

Why do Americans Live in Europe? from transition, A Paris Anthology, Writing and Art from transition magazine 1927-30

H. Wolf Kaufman:

“I prefer to live outside of America chiefly because I once had money enough to leave America with and the desire to leave America at the same time. It was a coincidence and I took advantage of it. There has never been a coincidence since. I have never had both the desire to go back and the money to go back with at the same time.

“Since I have come to know Paris I have become less irritable. I don’t like the sound of the French language. I don’t like the Russian taxi-drivers. I would like to have some good American coffee at the same time that I eat my meat, and I would like the newspaper for which I work to pay me enough to enable me to go to concerts when the notion strikes me. But I have come to the conclusion that there would be just as many irritable things in Berlin, or Vienna, or Moscow, or Hong Kong. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t intend to go to some of those places. I do. If, of course, I ever want to go and have the money to go with at the same time.

“I hate to use the word ‘melting pot.’ But the American is a combination of half a dozen nationalities. After the ingredients get well mixed up I think some sort of result must burst forth. The first definite American result thus far that has been a sort of dynamo-like powder blast. That is only a first result. It isn’t enough. Something else is coming. A couple of years ago, way down on Hudson street, I saw a little circulating library in a confectionary shop. The best sellers there were Dreiser’s An American Tragedy and Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. The owner told me that most of his customers wanted to read the books but later inevitably told him they were ‘rotten.’ Nevertheless, they read them. I may be a hopeless optimist. I cannot help feeling that if they read good books long enough, whether they understand them or not, whether they like them or not, sooner or later a bit of understanding will burst through. I cannot help feeling that if they buy good pictures long enough because they have the money and think it’s the proper thing to do, sooner or later they will learn to distinguish between red and purple.”

Gertrude Stein:

“The United States is just now the oldest country in the world, there always is an oldest country and she is it. It is she who is the mother of the twentieth century civilization. … And so it is a country the right age to have been born in and the wrong age to live in. She is the mother of modern civilization and one wants to have been born in the country that has attained and live in the countries that are attaining or going to be attaining. This is perfectly natural if you only look at facts as they are. America is now early Victorian very early Victorian, she is a rich and well nourished home but not a place to work. Your parent’s home is never a place to work it is a nice place to be brought up in. Later on there will be place enough to get away from home in the United States, it is beginning, then there will be creators who live at home. A country this the oldest and therefore the most important country in the world quite naturally produces the creators, and so naturally it is I an American who was and is thinking in writing was born in America and lives in Paris. This has been and probably will be the history of the world. That it is always going to be like that makes the monotony and variety of life that and that we are after all all of us ourselves.”

May 22, 2012


Filed under: books — theresaurus @ 8:07 am

I had to stop everything and watch To Kill a Mockingbird on TV this afternoon. This morning I’d checked the television schedule in Sam’s newspaper, but had no idea what kind of movie Arabama might be. Oh. Yes, To Kill a Mockingbird is set in Alabama and this is what the movie is known as in Japan. Learn something new every day.

I cried practically through the whole thing, I love this movie. It makes you really feel like you’re inside the head of a kid, that kid-world with scary neighbors and bad teachers and weird kids in your class and getting in trouble for stuff you think isn’t your fault. The 1930s. There’s a block of ice outside the courthouse for people to cool off with, like they do in Kanazawa’s outdoor market Omicho in the summer. Children carry lunch pails, wear overalls, girls have pigtails, they go out to play after dinner (no TV or computers) until parents step out onto the porch and yell their names when it’s time for them to come in for the night.

“You come on in here, boy, and bust up this chifforobe and I’ll give you a nickel.”

Especially since 2008 it has become very clear that for a segment of American society, the old Southern ways of (some, of course) lower class white’s hatred of Americans of African slave ancestry, whom they were only marginally better off than (and that fact made them seethe with resentment), is alive and well. The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree. Maybe that’s why the movie seems suddenly so great again, because the United States is still dealing with its past.

I love that Harper Lee only wrote this one book and won the Pulitzer Price for it. I know I must have read To Kill a Mockingbird in school, but have no recollection of it. I read a few chapters on the computer machine after watching the movie and it’s like a new book.

From To Kill a Mockingbird:

“There are just some kind of men … who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing. … He asked how I was getting along [in school]. I told him. ‘If I didn’t have to stay I’d leave. Jem, that damn lady says Atticus’s been teaching me to read and for him to stop it.’ … Miss Caroline caught me writing and told me to tell my father to stop teaching me. … Calpurnia was to blame for this. It kept me from driving her crazy on rainy days, I guess. … If I reproduced her penmanship satisfactorily, she rewarded me with an open-faced sandwich of bread and butter and sugar.

“Jem ran to the kitchen and asked Calpurnia to set an extra plate, we had company. Atticus greeted Walter and began a discussion about crops neither Jem nor I could follow.
‘Reason I can’t pass the first grade, Mr. Finch, is I’ve had to stay out every spring an’ help Papa with the choppin’, but there’s another’n at the house now that’s field size.’
‘Did you pay a bushel of potatoes for him?’ I asked, but Atticus shook his head at me. While Walter piled food on his plate, he and Atticus talked together like two men, to the wonderment of Jem and me. Atticus was expounding upon farm problems when Walter interrupted to ask if there was any molasses in the house. … Walter poured syrup on his vegetables and meat with a generous hand. He would probably have poured it into his milk glass had I not asked what the sam hill he was doing. The silver saucer clattered when he replaced the pitcher, and he quickly put his hands in his lap. Then he ducked his head. Atticus shook his head at me again.
‘But he’s gone and drowned his dinner in syrup,’ I protested. ‘He’s poured it all over –‘ It was then that Calpurnia requested my presence in the kitchen. … ‘There’s some folks who don’t eat like us, she whispered fiercely … .’

“‘Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up, is something I don’t pretend to understand.’

“‘I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.’
‘If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? Scout, I think I’m beginning to understand something. I think I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in the house all this time. It’s because he wants to stay inside.’

“You know the truth, and the truth is this: some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral, some Negro men cannot be trusted around women, black or white. But this is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men.

“‘I think I’ll be a clown when I get grown,’ said Dill. ‘Yes, sir, a clown… There ain’t one thing in this world I can do about folks except laugh, so I’m gonna join the circus and laugh my head off.’
‘You got it backwards, Dill,’ said Jem. ‘Clowns are sad, it’s folks that laugh at them.’
‘Well, I’m gonna be a new kind of clown. I’m gonna stand in the middle of the ring and laugh at the folks.’

“Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives.”

May 19, 2012

More Northwest cooking

Filed under: Uncategorized — theresaurus @ 10:49 am

More from the Time-Life series about Northwest cooking. Clams steamed with dry vermouth, parsley, garlic powder, French bread for dipping into the broth. Salmon roe exported to Japan. Driftwood-planked salmon; stuffed salmon wrapped in kelp and buried in coals. Seafood stew. Venison with cranberry ketchup (fresh cranberries, onions, vinegar, cinnamon, clove, allspice, celery seeds, salt and pepper). Berry pie.

“Parting boughs of cedar, we entered a clearing and saw an abandoned cabin. A plank path led across the soggy ground toward more woods, and we followed it. Frogs and toads, green, brown and black, some not bigger than a pinkie nail, hopped away in every direction, to the children’s enormous delight. At the forest edge we encountered a wall of black huckleberries, and there we stayed for the greater part of the afternoon, happily filling our pails to the brim. Home again, Liet and our sister-in-law Mollie put aside enough berries for a pie and reserved the rest for a jam that would be spiced with cinnamon and cloves. In preparing the pie, Mollie dispensed with a bottom crust, ‘which gets soggy anyway,’ and piled the berries into a deep dish. When the pie came from the oven, the flaky crust floated on the the berries. … During the rest of our trip through the Northwest we kept a constant eye out for berries of all sorts. We looked for the exotic — the saskatoons of Saskatchewan, the nagoonberries, or wineberries of Alaska — but we did not pass up the familiar. In Oregon, we saw roadsides thick with blackberry bushes, some four to five feet tall. These so-called Himalayas are scorned by some of our Oregon friends. They prefer the earlier-growing variety known as the Western trailing blackberry, or bewberry, which ripens in midsummer and trails along the ground. The dewberries, they claimed, were the real pie berries. Nevertheless, I walked slowly along the clustered bushes and reached into them to take the Himalayas, some so ripe they fell right into my hand. Their sun-warmed flavor might have been paler than that of the dewberries, as my friends insisted, but I found them wonderfully sweet, and full of juice.”


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