January 5, 2016

Happy Birthday Umberto Eco

Filed under: books — theresaurus @ 2:05 pm

“The Name of the Rose” — a wonderful novel.

“It was a beautiful morning at the end of November.”

“Indeed, once, as he poured some for us, he recalled for us that passage in the Rule where the holy founder observed that wine, to be sure, is not proper for monks, but since the monks of our time cannot be persuaded not to drink, they should at least not drink their fill, because wine induces even the the wise to apostasy, as Ecclesiastes reminds us. … We ate meat cooked on the spit, freshly slaughtered pigs, and I realized that in cooking other foods they did not use animal fats or rape oil but good olive oil, which came from lands the abbey owned at the foot of the mountain toward the sea. The abbot made us taste (reserved for his table) the chicken I had seen being prepared in the kitchen.”

“‘I will do,’ he said, ‘I will do cheese in batter.’
‘How is it made?’
‘Facilis. You take the cheese before it is too antiquum, without too much salis, and cut in cubes or sicut you like. And postea you put a bit of burrierro or lardo to rechauffer over the embers. And in it you put two pieces of cheese, and when it become tenero, zucharum et cinnamom supra positurum du bis. And immediately take to table, because it must be ate caldo caldo.'”

“The supper for the legation was superb. … We had a ragout of pigeon, marinaded in the wine of those lands, and roast rabbit, Saint Claire’s pasties, rice with the almonds of those hills — the blancmange of fast days, that is — and borage tarts, stuffed olives, fried cheese, mutton with a sauce of raw peppers, white broad beans, and exquisite sweets, Saint Bernard’s cake, Saint Nicholas’s pies, Saint Lucy’s dumplings, and wines, and herb liqueurs that put everyone in a good humor … .”

“The kitchen was a vast smoke-filled entrance hall, where many servants were already busy preparing the food for supper. On a great table two of them were making a pie of greens, barley, oats, and rye, chopping turnips, cress, radishes, and carrots. Nearby, another cook had just finished poaching some fish in a mixture of wine and water, and was covering them with a sauce of sage, parsley, thyme, garlic, pepper, and salt.”

“At that time I had passed very little of my life in a scriptorium, but I spent a great deal of it subsequently and I know what torment it is for the scribe, the rubricator, the scholar to spend the long winter hours at his desk, his fingers numb around the stylus (when even in a normal temperature, after six hours of writing, the fingers are seized by the terrible monk’s cramp and the thumb aches as it if it had been trodden on). And this explains why we often find in the margins of manuscripts phrases left by the scribe as testimony to his suffering (and his impatience), such as ‘Thank God it will soon be dark,’ or ‘Oh, if I had a good glass of wine,’ or also, ‘Today it is cold, the light is dim, this vellum is hairy, something is wrong.'”

“‘Why? To know what one book says you must read others?’
‘At times this can be so. Often books speak of other books… .’
‘True,’ I said, amazed. Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.”

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 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.”

January 23, 2013

American fare

Filed under: books — theresaurus @ 11:52 pm

The inaugural ceremony was on all the international news programs I saw this morning, and it was nice to see so many regular Americans and remember that they come in all ages and colors and backgrounds. The inaugural luncheon menu was very American. Steamed lobster with New England clam chowder with sauteed spinach and sweet potato hay. Hickory grilled bison with red potato horseradish cakes and wild huckleberry reduction, butternut squash puree, baby golden beets and green beans, strawberry preserves and red cabbage. Hudson Valley apple pie with sour cream ice cream and maple caramel sauce, artisan cheese and honey. Naturally, because the president is not allowed one day off from media criticism and negativity, the meal was judged to have too many calories. How can Michelle Obama promote healthy eating when this meal has too many calories?

The American products I most often see in supermarkets here are Kellog’s Corn Flakes, Jiffy Popcorn, Snickers bars, Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, Ritz Crackers, Kraft cheeses, Ba-co Bacon Bits, Cambell’s soups, Doritos. What I think is strange is how many of these brand product jingles and slogans I have memorized from TV as a child and still clearly remember. I wasn’t even allowed to watch that much television. Oscar Meyer Wieners (“My wiener has a first name…”); Paulmolive Dishwashing Liquid (“You’re soaking in it!”); Folger’s Coffee (“Good to the last drop”); Rice-a-Roni (“The San Francisco treat”); Hienz Ketchup (Carol King’s “Anticipation”); Cambell’s Soup (“Mmm-mmm good”); Sunkist Tuna (“Sorry, Charlie”); Kellog’s Frosted Flakes (“They’re great!”). That brain space could be used in a much more productive way.

I’m always surprised at the brand loyalty some Americans in Japan have. It’s depressing to see someone’s Thanksgiving dinner and instead of using local ingredients they have been imported, and that I know what brands everything is before they even say so: Butterball Turkey; Stouffer’s Stove Top Stuffing; Ocean Breeze Cranberries; Libby’s canned pumpkin; Carnation evaporated milk. As Andy Warhol wrote, “Buying is more American than thinking and I’m as American as they come.”

Other really American things:

Eating with hands, picking up things with both hands and needing lots of napkins: hamburgers should drip with sauce, pizza crust should bend under the weight of cheese and too many ingredients and grease, hot wings should stain fingers. Dipping and dunking. Children drinking milk with meals, adults drinking coffee with meals. Walking around with coffee, soda, or bottled water. Take out. Doggy bags. Bottomless coffee refills. Happy hours. Complementary bread baskets, free rice at Chinese restaurants, free tortilla chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants. Putting cheese on everything. Putting jalapenos, hot sauce,  BBQ sauce, salsa, or Ranch dressing on everything. Brunch, all-day breakfasts, buckwheat pancakes with maple syrup and bacon, cinnamon rolls, blueberry muffins, steak and eggs with hash browns, enormous omelets named after cities or states, grapefruit halves with sugar, orange juice, cinnamon raisin toast. Long menus that make it difficult to decide.

Sandwiches as big as your head, regional versions of sandwiches and hot dogs and hamburgers. Sloppy Joes. Taking an inexpensive food and making an expensive gourmet version: coffee, ice cream, cupcakes, cookies, popcorn, hamburgers and hot dogs, pizza. Choose-your-own-topping pizza, pizzas made with eccentric ingredients, pizza crusts made with spent grain from beer, Canadian bacon and pineapple pizza, pan pizza. Salads as meals (containing meat, seafood, eggs, noodles, croutons, cheese, nuts, fruit, herbs, lettuces, tortilla chips, etc.), Iceberg lettuce wedge with Ranch dressing, Caesar Salad, Jell-O salads, cottage cheese and pineapple, salad bars, an infinite variety of dressings.

Hamburgers with French fries and too much ketchup, fries dipped in a thick milk shake. Onion rings. Pickles on hamburgers and relish on hot dogs. Veggie burgers. Buffalo chicken wings with blue cheese dressing and celery. Peanut butter in celery, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, peanut butter cookies, peanut brittle. Chili and cornbread, grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, clam chowder and soda crackers, geoduck chowder, oyster stew and oyster crackers. San Francisco cioppino, Hangtown fry, sourdough bread. Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy. Spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread. Steamed clams in a bucket with melted butter, crab cakes, Seafood Boil, cedar-planked salmon, trout with wild rice, Shrimp Cocktail, fish sticks and tater tots, fried clams and tarter sauce. Beef jerky, salmon jerky. Applesauce. Fry Bread tacos, fish tacos.

Fried pickles. Kung Pao Chicken, Sweet and Sour Pork, fortune cookies. Barbecued ribs, pulled pork, baked beans, macaroni & cheese as a side dish. Biscuits and gravy. Fried chicken and waffles, buttermilk fried chicken and potato salad. Deviled eggs. Jambalaya, black-eyed peas, grits, fried green tomatoes, sweet potato pie, pickled watermelon. Hickory smoked ham, fried pork rinds. Chicken pot pie. Corn on the cob, creamed corn, corn dogs, Hush Puppies, popcorn with melted butter, popcorn balls made with marshmallows, molasses, or maple syrup. Steak with baked potato and sour cream and chives, potato chips and sour cream onion dip, BBQ flavored potato chips, candied sweet potatoes.

Apple pie with cheddar cheese, cheesecake with graham cracker crust, carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, banana bread and butter, oatmeal cookies and milk, pies made from rhubarb, pecan, pumpkin, huckleberries, layer cakes, banana splits, pie with vanilla ice cream. Caramel apples. Root beer floats, ginger ale, Dr. Pepper, lemonade, iced tea in a Mason jar with a straw, cream soda, black-cherry soda, Orange Julius, Red Hook ESB. Vegetarians, vegans, the gluten or lactose intolerant, low-fat, low-cholesteral diets. Inexpensive food from around the world made by people from those countries. The more expensive fusion versions. American sushi: a roll made of beef, bacon, jalapeno wrapped in nori and deep-fried, topped with marinated tomatoes, Pepper Jack cheese, and cashew-cilantro pesto; a roll made of bison, fried green tomatoes, grilled onion, feta, topped with chipotle aioli, jalapenos and red onions; a roll made of crab, avocado, cucumber, tobiko, with a red miso BBQ sauce. Spam Musubi.

On TV right now there’s a 1941 movie, Tobacco Road. Poor whites in the South whose ancestors used to be farmers but the banks took their land, because the civil war, I assume. They are dirt poor and don’t bathe or have many teeth and live in shacks with barking dogs and yell at each other and be lazy. One of them is named “Dude.” Some of the women are religious fanatics. They steal turnips and corn. They eat the turnips raw. I think of Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo, except they never eat vegetables. I watched their Halloween special (strictly for anthropological purposes, I swear) and they threw the apples they got trick-or-treating out on the lawn for the animals to eat, they literally never eat fruit and don’t seem to know what vegetables are. So the Tabacco Road descendants are the ones buying guns and voting against their own interests because of their old grudge against Northerners and minorities. We are obviously supposed to laugh at them in the movie, as we are supposed to laugh at Honey Boo Boo. The South, I don’t know. They should go back to eating vegetables at least.

From Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad:

“After a few month’s aquaintance with European ‘coffee,’ one’s mind weakens, and his faith with it, and be begins to wonder if the rich beverage of home, with its clotted layer of yellow cream on top of it, is not a mere dream, after all, and a thing which never existed. … Then there is the beefsteak. They have it in Europe, but they don’t know how to cook it. … It lies in the center of this platter, in a bordering bed of grease-soaked potatoes; it is the size, shape, and thickness of a man’s hand with the thumb and fingers cut off. It is a little overdone, is rather dry, it tastes pretty insipidly, it rouses no enthusiasm. Imagine a poor exile contemplating that inert thing; and imagine an angel suddenly sweeping down out of a better land and setting before him a mighty porterhouse steak an inch and a half thick, hot and sputtering from the griddle; dusted with fragrant pepper; enriched with little melting bits of butter of the most unimpeachable freshness and genuineness; the precious juices of the meat trickling and joining the gravy archipelagoed with mushrooms; a township or two of tender, yellowish fat gracing an outlying district of this ample country of beefsteak; the long white bone which divides the sirloin from the tenderloin still in its place; and imagine that the angel also adds a great cup of American home-made coffee, with a cream a-froth on top, some real butter, firm and yellow and fresh, some smoking-hot biscuits, a plate of hot buckwheat cakes, with transparent syrup — would words describe the gratitude of the exile?

“The European dinner is better than the European breakfast, but … it does not satisfy. There is here and there an American who will say he can remember rising from a European table d’hote perfectly satisfied; but we must not overlook the fact that there is also here and there an American who will lie. … Perhaps if the roast of mutton or beef — a big generous one — were brought to the table and carved in full view of the client that might give the right sense of earnestness and reality to the thing; but they don’t do that, they pass the sliced meat around on a dish, and so you are perfectly calm, it does not stir you in the least. Now a vast roast turkey, stretched on the broad of his back, with his hells in the air and the rich juices oozing from his fat sides … but I may stop there, for they would not know how to cook him. They can’t even cook a chicken respectably; and as for carving, they do that with a hatchet.

“I have selected a few dishes, and made out a little bill of fare … and be hot when I arrive — as follows:

Radishes. Baked apples, with cream.
Fried oysters; stewed oysters.
American coffee, with real cream.
Fried chicken, Southern style.
Porter-house steak.
American roast beef.
Hot buckwheat cakes.
American toast. Clear maple syrup.
Virginia bacon, broiled.
Prairie liens, from Illinois.
‘Possom. Coon.
Bacon and greens, Southern style.
Cherry-stone clams.
San Francisco mussels, steamed.
Oyster soup. Clam soup.
Soft-shelled crab. Connecticut shad.
Brook trout from Sierra Nevada.
Black bass from the Mississippi.
Roast turkey, Thanksgiving style.
Cranberry sauce. Celery.
Boston bacon and beans.
Hominy. Boiled onions. Turnips.
Sliced tomatoes, with sugar or vinegar.
Pumpkins. Squash. Asparagus.
Butter beans. Sweet potatoes.
Lettuces. Succotash. String beans.
Mashed potatoes. Catsup.
Green corn, on the ear.
Hot corn-pone, with chitlings, Southern style.
Buttermilk. Iced sweet milk.
Pumpkin pie. Squash pie.

Fresh American fruits of all sorts, including strawberries which are not to be doled out as if they were jewelry, but in a more liberal way. Ice-water — not prepared in the ineffectual goblet, but in the sincere and capable refrigerator.”

January 9, 2013

Simone de Beauvoir

Filed under: books — theresaurus @ 8:09 am


Birthday girl, born this day a hell of a long time ago. The idea of her was very important to me as a student: she was a heterosexual woman who was an intellectual and atheist, not at all interested in marriage or children. I thought she was a better writer than Sartre, but the more of her work I read the sadder she seemed to me (not that I can recall why, college was a hell of a long time ago). One of the few works of hers I never read was The Mandarins. I should get hold of a copy. Oh, and I never finished The Second Sex. I dragged around a used paperback for a decade but couldn’t get through it, maybe because of the translation. I never thought I’d get married, but then until Sam I had never met anyone who I wanted legal rights to, a legal document proving this is mine! Then I became Mrs. Jean Paul Sartre. I’m still mad about a New York Times article a couple years ago about Simone, Being and Frumpiness. This is what’s wrong, that women are still being judged by appearance, even intellectuals — everyone knows intellectuals live in their heads so why obsess about what they wear on their bodies? I have leather boots and one of them has big rip in the heel. Today I finally washed the sweater I’ve been wearing daily for months that’s full of woolly boogers. What in the hell is the difference between men and women anyway, really? The ability to look in a refrigerator and see the apple juice right in front of you?

From an interview with Simone:

“They [Americans], more than any other women, and for obvious reasons, were most aware of the contradictions between new technology and the conservative role of keeping women in the kitchen. As technology expands — technology being the power of the brain and not the brawn — the male rationale that women are the weaker sex and hence must play a secondary role can no longer be logically maintained. Since technological innovations were so widespread in America, American women could not escape the contradiction. It was thus normal that the feminist movement got its biggest impetus in the very heartland of imperial capitalism, even if that impetus was strictly one of economics, that is, the demand for equal pay for equal work.

“Women on the right do not want revolution. They are mothers, wives, devoted to their men. Or, if they are agitators at all, they want a bigger piece of the pie. … A feminist, whether she calls herself leftist or not, is a leftist by definition. She is struggling for total equality, for the right to be important, as relevant, as any man. Therefore, embodied in the revolt for sexual equality is the demand for class equality.

“Do you think the mothers you know chose to have children? Or were they intimidated into having them? Or, more subtly, were they raised into thinking that it’s natural and normal and womanly to have children and therefore chose to have them? But who made that choice inevitable? Those are the values that have to be changed.

“Because  of the publicity the word ‘liberation’ is on the tip of the tongue of every male, whether aware of sexual oppression of women or not. The general attitude of males now is that ‘well, since you’re liberated. Let’s go to bed.’ In other words, men are now much more aggressive, vulgar, violent. In my youth we could stroll down Montparnasse or sit in cafes without being molested. Oh, we got smiles, winks, stares, and so on. But now it’s impossible for a woman to sit alone in a cafe reading a book. And if she’s firm about being left alone when the males accost her, their parting remark is often salop [bitch] or putain [whore]. There’s much more rape now. In general, male aggressiveness and hostility has become so common that no woman feels at ease in this town, and from what I hear in any town in America. Unless, of course, women stay at home. And that’s what lies behind this male aggressiveness: the threat which, in male eyes, women’s liberation represents has brought out their insecurities, hence their anger resulting that they now tend to behave as if only women who stay at home are ‘clean’ while the others are easy marks. When women turn out not to be such easy marks, the men become personally challenged, so to speak. Their one idea is to ‘get’ the woman.”

November 18, 2012

The Secret History

Filed under: books — theresaurus @ 12:43 pm

Today Sam wanted to visit a library we haven’t been to before, enticing me with the assurance that it had 100 books in English on the shelves, he’d called and asked. It wasn’t until we were on the way there that I thought, uh oh, those are probably children’s books because that’s always the case around here. Indeed, it was, but among the half-dozen grown-up books, I found one of my favorite works of fiction: Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I haven’t read it in years.

The library’s over the border from Nagoya, in Nagakute, so we couldn’t use our Nagoya cards. Sam had to fill out a long form to get a card that he found nosy and didn’t want to give such personal information but the guy who helped him made him do it, then spent an absurd amount of time explaining the rules and regulations of the library to him while the line for people borrowing books grew longer and longer. Sam kept looking over at me and making faces, later said he felt tormented: he’s been in a library before, he’s not seven years old, borrowing a library book isn’t complicated. And why so much personal information? It’s not like the library has anything nice and new that anyone would want to steal. I noticed that library guy right away because he didn’t look like he should be working in a library, had on a much too formal suit and just seemed out of place. He wore a badge indicating that he was a new employee. Bossy for a new employee. Wonder where he was downsized or fired from. I like the library women. Libraries belong to women.

From The Secret History:

“Even now I remember those pictures, like pictures in a storybook one loved as a child. Radiant meadows, mountains vaporous in the trembling distance; leaves ankle-deep on a gusty autumn road; bonfires and fog in the valleys; cellos, dark window-panes, snow. Hampden College, Hampden, Vermont. … For a long time I looked at a picture of the building they called Commons. It was suffused with a weak, academic light — different from Plano, different from anything I had ever known — a light that made me think of long hours in dusty libraries, and old books, and silence.

“On my first night there, I sat on the bed … listening to a soprano’s voice climb dizzily up and down somewhere at the other end of the hall until at last the light was completely gone … . And I was happy in those first days as really I’d never been before, roaming like a sleep-walker, stunned and drunk with beauty. … Trees creaking with apples, fallen apples red on the grass beneath, the heavy sweet smell of apples rotting on the ground and the steady thrumming of wasps around them. … And the nights, bigger than imaging: black and gusty and enormous, disordered and wild with stars.

“It was a beautiful room, not an office at all, … airy and white, with a high ceiling and a breeze fluttering from starched curtains. In the corner, near a low bookshelf, was a big round table littered with teapots and Greek books, and there were flowers everywhere, roses and carnations and anemones, on his desk, on the table, in the windowsills. The roses were especially fragrant; their smell hung rich and heavy in the air, mingled with the smell of bergamot, and black China tea, and a faint inky scent of camphor. Breathing deep, I felt intoxicated. Everywhere I looked was something beautiful — Oriental rugs, porcelains, tiny paintings like jewels — a dazzle of fractured color that struck me as if I had stepped into one of those little Byzantine churches that are so plain on the outside; inside, the most paradisal painted eggshell of gilt and tesserae.

“I suppose there is a certain crucial interval in everyone’s life when character is fixed forever; for me, it was that first fall term I spent at Hampden. So many things remain with me from that time, even now: those preferences in clothes and books and even food — acquired then, and largely, I must admit, in adolescent emulation of the rest of the Greek class — have stayed with me through the years.

“Francis would order all kinds of food from the grocery store and leaf through cookbooks and worry for days about what to serve, what wine to serve with it, which dishes to use, what to have in the wings as a backdrop should the souffle fall. … Though, at the time, I found those dinners wearing and troublesome, now I find something very wonderful in my memory of them, that dark cavern of a room, with vaulted ceilings and fire crackling in the fireplace, our faces luminous somehow, and ghostly pale. The firelight magnified our shadows, glinted off the silver, flickered high upon the walls; its reflection roared orange in the windowpanes as if a city were burning outside.

“On those chill afternoons when the sky was like lead and the clouds were racing, we stayed in the library, banking huge fires to keep warm. Bare willows clicked on the windowpanes like skeleton fingers. While the twins played cards at one end of the table, and Henry worked at the other, Francis was curled in the window seat with a plate of little sandwiches in his lap, reading, in French, the Memoires of the Duc de Saint-Simon, which for some reason he was determined to get through.”

October 16, 2012

Rolling Hop

Filed under: books — theresaurus @ 4:40 am

Found this beer in the discount bin at Liquor Mountain last weekend and I bought it because I’m in the middle of reading Keith Richards’ autobiography. It’s very light but delicious, a little sweet. A big display of imported German pretzels for only ¥198 (big, mini or stick type) intrigued me and I got some for Sam but he said they were tasteless. These will not be popular with customers. They still have a large amount of German pickles they can’t seem to sell even at half price — they’re cucumber pickles with hot peppers and what’s the point of masking the taste of a nice dill pickle with heat? I have no choice but to hold a grudge against Liquor Mountain because they stopped buying good imported cheeses. They do have a fine pasta selection, I’ll give them that.

I started out liking Keith as I read, but by the end of the book didn’t so much. I admit to skimming though some parts because the book has to go back to the library tomorrow, maybe not fair. Maybe it’s me, it’s the times we live in. I’m not in the mood to hear about another rich guy’s bullshit even if it’s honest bullshit.

Mind! In answer to the eternal question of Rolling Stones or Beatles, I choose the Stones over the Beatles by a long shot, although if I listen to too much Stones I feel the need for a shower. That sort of rock and roll is dirty, don’t you know. I’m beginning to really dislike the Beatles — I’ve reached the limit of how many times I can hear their music in a lifetime and beg Sam to refrain from playing the same old songs while I’m in the vicinity. I especially hate their hippie period, the hideous outfits and hairstyles and the whole Indian guru thing. One of my favorite Stones songs is one of their covers of the old funk song “Down Home Girl”  (“every time I kiss you, girl, you taste like pork and beans”) they heard for the first time in New York in 1964.

In fact, my favorite part of his book is when Keith talks about the Stones’ first tour of the U.S. that year.

From Life:

“There was the stark thing you discovered about America — it was civilized around the edges, but fifty miles inland from any major American city … you really did go into another world. In Nebraska and places like that we got used to them saying, ‘Hello, girls.’ … Everything they said was offensive, but the actual drive behind it was very much defense. We just wanted to go in and have a pancake or a cup of coffee with some ham and eggs, but we had to be prepared to put up with some taunting. All we were doing was playing music, but what we realized was we were going through some very interesting social dilemmas and clashes. And whole loads of insecurities, it seemed to me. Americans were supposed to be brash and self-confident. Bullshit. That was just a front. Especially the men, especially in those days, they didn’t quite know what was happening. … The only hostility I can recall on a consistent basis was from white people. Black brothers and musicians at the very least thought we were interestingly quirky. We could talk. It was far more difficult to break through to white people. You always got the impression that you were definitely a threat.”

Sounds familiar. Still are insecure hostile white men who’ll vote for the fake reality show ticket of Romney/Ryan next month because they don’t know what’s happening and are afraid and angry at fictional enemies. The white men who’ve thought of themselves as victims since the end of the Civil War, then the sixties completely freaked them out. It would’ve been fine, they would’ve adapted, but the Republican Party figured out how to get them to vote Republican despite the party’s systematic wrecking of the manufacturing economy they depend on for jobs and ridiculously high deficits that allow Republicans to cut funding for social programs and education and all the rest, they happily vote for the demise of their class and descent into a poorer life in every sense of the word.

“Most towns, like white Nashville, for example, by ten o’clock were ghost towns. We were working with black guys, the Vibrations, Don Brandley, I think his name was. … So, get in the cab and we go across the tracks and it’s just starting to happen. There’s food going, everybody’s rocking and rolling, everybody’s having a good time, and it was such a contrast from the white side of town, it always sticks in my memory. You could hang there with ribs, drink, smoke. And big mamas, for some reason they always looked upon us as thin and frail people. So they started to mama us, which was all right with me. … You wake up in a house full of black people who are being so incredibly kind to you, you can’t believe it. I mean, shit, I wish this happened at home. And this happened in every town.”

Keith’s recipe for bangers and mash is included. Find fresh sausages at the butchers, fry some onions and bacon, boil potatoes with a dash of vinegar with onions and salt and peas (carrots if you like them). Put the sausages in with the onions and bacon and “let the fuckers rock gently.” Mash the spuds and “HP sauce, every man to his own.” And his secret to sheperd’s pie is to put a layer of chopped raw onions on the meat before you spread on the potatoes.

“We’ve been trained from babyhood to have three square meals a day, the full factory-industrial revolution idea of how you’re supposed to eat. … That’s what school’s all about. Forget the geography and history and mathematics, they’re teaching you how to work in a factory. When the hooter goes, you eat. For office work or even if you’re trained to be a prime minister, it’s the same thing. It’s very bad for you to stuff all that crap in at once. Better to have a bit here, a mouthful there, every few hours a bite or two. The human body can deal with it better than showing a whole load of crap down your gob in an hour.”

June 20, 2012

This is not my kitchen

Filed under: books, Japan — theresaurus @ 11:50 pm

This is my mother-in-law’s kitchen. The table is covered in clear plastic. There’s a framed crossword puzzle on the wall. The wallpaper has never been changed. The ceiling is dingy white plastic. The florescent light is very bright. There’s a map of the neighborhood and names of households and a plastic whistle hangs nearby, probably from the days long ago when Sam’s parents had to do some sort of community activity. I miss how in Kanazawa the neighbors took turns walking around in the evening clapping wooden sticks together to remind people to, I don’t know, make sure things were all turned off in the kitchen, to prevent fires. That is a very Japanese sound, like the sweet potato truck and the tofu seller’s whistle.

The bookcase contains Sam’s father’s books about plants and bonsai and Japanese history, and his mother’s karaoke tapes. A picture of the grandchildren rests on top. Above the telephone is a mess of pens, pencils, markers, scissors, rulers, erasers, a couple of fans. On the table is Sam’s mother’s box of calcium supplements. She’s still in the hospital with a bad back. She took to sitting with a rubber ball against her back, it helps her to sit up straight. Her apron is slung over her chair. This is where she spends most of her time. She sits in the kitchen practicing her karaoke with a tape recorder or watching TV. On windy days the old weather vane outside squeaks as it turns. Meals are eaten at the same time every day, the correct times. The rice and miso soup are made in the morning, rice kept warm in the rice cooker and soup left all day in its pan to be reheated. A fish is grilled for lunch. Hot water waits in the thermos for tea. Dishes are washed and dried and put away immediately. Every surface is wiped clean and dry. She wears her apron all day. This is the center of the world, the navel, her home.

Sam doesn’t lift a finger in the kitchen, he’s an honored guest. We women jump to serve him, up out of our chair, back down, up again. Even if we have bad backs and arthritic knees and move with the swiftness of an Alpine glacier, this is our job, we are women, this is our duty and our pleasure. More rice? A jar of nori for your rice? Time to heat up the soup yet? There are some pickles in the fridge if you want any, would you like some shaved fish on top of that? Another beer? Why, certainly I will wash off (thoroughly!) the piece of cucumber you have dropped on the floor. Here, let me take away this empty plate, lest it hinder your majesty’s access to the sashimi. After a day of this I want to kick Sam’s big flat head over and over and over and over.

When I put my own food in the refrigerator, when I take over the kitchen to cook, even when the mother-in-law has requested that I cook, I feel like I’m intruding, invading. It feels more intimate than the bedroom. I’m nervous about leaving greasy fingerprints on the fridge door, of neglecting to wipe up splashed water, of misplacing something. When I wash the dishes, she rewashes them after Sam and I leave the kitchen to do something else. When we have barbecues in the garden, we put the picnic table and grill close to the house so she can sit on the floor of the kitchen and eat. She doesn’t like to go outside. Animals eat outside, not people.

When I get back home to Nagoya on Sunday afternoons, it’s a great pleasure to slip back into my own kitchen and begin to make dinner. My messy kitchen. I look outside at the bamboo grove, the busy bus terminal, the other houses and feel happy.

From Rebecca Otowa’s At Home in Japan:

“The kitchen is the most emotionally charged room in the house for a Japanese wife. It’s her workplace, her arena, her sphere of creativity, her classroom. Here is where she stands at the sink, with a child leaning against her watching her chop vegetables. Here is where she washes dishes through a blur of tears after being scolded by her mother-in-law. Here is where she breathlessly arranges her piece de resistance on a beautiful serving dish before carrying it out for all to enjoy. And here is where she sits, a cup of tea before her, listening to the sound of guests in the from room who are due to leave soon, and will need to be bowed out.

“The kitchen is not a place for outsiders, not even the men of the family. In one of our more memorable arguments, my mother-in-law said it made her sick to her stomach to see my husband, or my two sons, Goke and Yuki, working in the kitchen. Since I had no daughter, it was up to me to perform the kitchen tasks singlehanded. As I ploughed through the daily round, I often thought of my dad, who regularly washed the dishes and often cooked, and wondered how my sons would take care of themselves when they went out into the world.”

June 11, 2012

Nisei Daughter

Filed under: books — theresaurus @ 11:53 am

From Monica Sone’s Nisei Daughter (1953):

“The first five years of my life I lived in amoebic bliss, not knowing whether I was plant or animal, at the old Carrollton Hotel on the waterfront of Seattle. One day when I was a happy six-year-old, I made the shocking discovery that I had Japanese blood. I was a Japanese. … ‘So, Papa and I have decided that you and Ka-chan will attend Japanese school after grammar school every day.’  She beamed at us. I choked on my rice. Terrible, terrible, terrible! So that’s what it meant to be a Japanese — to lose my afternoon play hours! I fiercely resented this sudden intrusion of my blood into my affairs. … Up to that moment, I had never thought of Father and Mother as Japanese. True, they had almond eyes and they spoke Japanese to us, but I never felt it was strange. It was like one person’s being red-haired and another black.

“Our street itself was a compact little world, teeming with the bustle of every kind of business in existence in Skidrow. Right below our living quarters was a large second-hand clothing store. It was guarded by a thin, hunchbacked, gray woolly-bearded man who sat napping on a little stool the entrance. … Oddly, the shop was very susceptible to fire, and every now and then smoke would seep up through our bedroom floor boards and we would hear fire engines thundering down our street. After such an uproar, the old man would put up huge, red-lettered signs: Mammoth Fire Sale … practically a giveaway!

“Next to the clothing store was the tavern, the forbidden hall of iniquity, around which we were not supposed to loiter. The swinging door was sawed off at the bottom, but with our heads hanging down we managed to get an upside down view of it. All we could see were feet stuck to brass rails. … Next to our hotel entrance, Mr. Wakamatsu operated the Ace Cafe. We liked him, because he was such a tall, pleasant-mannered, handsome man. He had a beautiful clear tenor voice which floated out into the alley up to our kitchen as he called out, ‘Veal, French fries on the side …!’ Mr. Wakamatsu’s window display was always a splendid sight to see. There would be neat rows of purple strawberry shortcakes, or a row of apple pies shining with the luster of shallac, or a row of rigid, blood-red gelatin puddings planted squarely in the center of thick white saucers.

“Next to the Ace Cafe was Dunk’s father’s small barbershop. Then there was the little white-painted hot-dog stand where we bought luscious hot dogs and hamburgers smothered with onions and the hottest of chili sauce which brought tears brimming to our eyes. The hot-dog man was constantly swatting flies on the meat board, and I hate to think how many smashed flies were in the red ground meat.

“Then came another forbidden place, the burlesque house. A brunet-haired woman with carefully powdered wrinkles sat in the ticket booth, chewing gum. She always winked a shiny purple eyelid at us whenever we passed, and we never knew for sure whether we should smile back at her or not.”

Older Posts »

Blog at