Friday, December 31, 2010

Expanding Waist

A sad moment is when I take out with much anticipation a very favorite dress to wear for the night out that I hadn’t worn for a few years and find that I no long fit into it -- however hard I struggle. I get furious and scream “damn you,” though I am myself to be damned for allowing my waist to wax rather than wane. If I wore it more often, it might have remained fit, I wonder.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Heavy snow in NYC - ニューヨークの大雪

Like white cowrie shells
those snow-covered cars in tow
inching along the street.


Friday, December 10, 2010


The more secrets we harbor, the more anxiety we nourish lest the secrets get exposed, and the more we become desperate for security measures; then, the more we prompt curiosity and suspicion and eventually reconnaissance among others. This goes for governments. Climate of fear brews animosities. Establishing an amicable relationship among peoples and nations automatically removes a need for espionage. So, there.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Criticism is more often understood as censure. “Don’t be so critical,” we hear people say, by which is meant, “Don’t be so judgmental.” Critics are therefore expected to pass a value judgment on the work they criticize. But this is not exactly what critics should be doing. In my opinion, the critic’s primary task is exegesis. The critic explicates; she excavates layer by layer like an archeologist and exposes the significance of the work under consideration that a casual reader or viewer is likely to overlook or ignore. Lesser works are less likely to fall in the critic’s hands because they provide less matter of interest to expose. Therefore, it is by not choosing to discuss certain works that the critic affirms the merit of the work she selects for discussion and by default belittles the works she ignores. It is at once nasty and futile, and totally uncalled for, to censure a work in publication, except when it is necessary to counter the prevailing but false favorable reviews. Negative criticism is useful most of all in the private discussion with the author of the work when the latter is disposed to listen, as in the teacher’s “crit” of a student’s work. Above all, the critic should eschew writing about a work she dislikes, or feel disinclined to like, by her personal predilection. Reasons for liking a work brings out more in the work; they interpret. Reasons for disliking a work may explain the critic’s taste but not the work’s merit.

Window shopping

New York is a wonderful place to go shopping with all its glamorous shops with endless variety of consumer goods, if you can afford to shop, or, if not, go window shopping to delight your eyes. But, ironically, by the time I made a complete move to the city, at 77, I found myself with very little interest in shopping. It is probably true that material needs diminish in old age. I don’t need new dresses as for now; I have more accessories than I can use; I have no room for new furnishings. I never had appetite for luxury items, though I used to buy modestly priced works of art. Now, I have no more wall space left in my apartment for even one more picture; I disposed of a stack when I moved out of the house in Swarthmore. My appliances and electronics are all still in good shape; I replaced some of them when I moved in the apartment. I still buy some books, CDs, and DVDs; but space for them is also running out. This is all perfect because my disposable income goes heavily into theater tickets, leaving little for anything else. Consequently, I have also lost appetite for window shopping, because without a prospect of future shopping there is not much need for scouting for new things to buy. Beautiful apparels in shop windows are beautiful; but I am not enticed. It is true that my wardrobe gets out of fashion year by year, and window shopping keeps sharpening one’s discriminating taste. But, to quote Coco Chanel, “La mode c’est ce qui se démode,” and I have a certain taste for a select "mode démodée." I dabble in the art of looking presentable, if not more or less elegant, in an outdated, and often inexpensive, outfit. I manage. New York for me is not for shopping or window shopping. Well, if I had a windfall of inheritance, I'm sure I'll change.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Old hag

We say “old hag” but a hag is old and ugly by definition, so it is redundant to say “old hag.” Well, until I am old enough to merit that tautological moniker, say, when I am 100, I’d have to be satisfied with a plain hag or a young hag.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Holding on by hand

A child walking holding on, hand in hand, to an adult -- mom, dad, or nanny -- is a lovely sight to see. In my neighborhood in New York I see many children walking or skipping with an adult who walks them to school and picks them up when the school is over. It then occurred to me that this is a sight much rarer in suburbia because children are chauffeured to and from school by car, and shopping is done without negotiating crowded sidewalks. The sight brings back the memory of my childhood. I had to stretch my arm high to reach up and clasp the adult’s hand, which was always so big, and I had to skip now and then to catch up with the adult’s gait. There was a wonderful feel of security, the assurance that I won’t get lost. Sometimes, in impatience, the adult will grip my wrist, and I hated that because it made me feel a captive; I insisted on being clasped by hand. I wish I found a medium-sized giant whom I can hold on by hand and recapture that sensation.



No intermission

“It’s one hour and 40 minutes, without intermission,” says the husband looking up from the playbill, to which his wife responds enthusiastically, “Oh, good.” I hear this kind of conversation quite often in the theater as we wait for the phantom curtain to rise. More and more plays are written to be performed without intermission. By and large they are an hour and a half, the length of the standard feature-length movie. Economy favors shorter plays for better profit. But I feel cheated. In the old days, plays came in three acts with two intermissions. This is the classical form, and three acts are necessary to shape the characters in the first act, to develop the plot in the second, and to create a dramatic resolution in the third. More plays today are written and performed, too, with two or three actors, some just with one, which significantly cut down the production cost. Monologues can deliver good story-telling, but there is no potential for drama without space for interactions among several characters; even with two-handlers, I feel gypped, especially for the kind of money we pay for the ticket. Even classics, written in three acts, are often contracted to be done with one intermission so that the audience can go home early. The contemporary audience’s preference for shorter plays without intermission reflects, no doubt, their shortened attention span. Theater is no place for people who’d rather be entertained in the comfort of their home.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Dear Dr. De Bonis
will yank my tooth
So, he's the Yanker. . .
makes me a Yankee.

The filling in the upper left molar (#15 on the dentist's chart) fell out and my dentist thinks the cavity is too large, the shell too fragile for another filling, and so extraction is called for to protect the root canal. He does not suggest any replacement -- denture or implant. So, there will be an empty lot up on that street. Shall I plant tomatoes there? Or shall I let my cat out to play?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dior's Big Handbag

Christian Dior Store (LVMH Tower) on 57th between Fifth Avenue and Madison (architect Christian de Portzamparc, 1995-1999) put up a scaffold and covered it with a giant handbag -- very elegant. I didn't have my Canon but the twilight glow was perfect, and I couldn't resist snapping it with my Blackberry.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Joy of anticipation

A piece of music you hear for the first time may have a thrill of novelty. If the novelty is excessive, it may be hard to follow and demand such concentrated attention as to lessen the pleasure it was expected to provide; it then calls for repeated listening, if we are so inclined.

When we listen to a familiar piece of music, there is a special pleasure of recognition, like the established classic works of Bach, Mozart, Schubert, and Beethoven, of Rossini, Puccini, and Tchaikovsky. The better we know the piece, the greater is the pleasure, and from phrase to phrase, from section to section, we anticipate what is to come next, even without catchy melodies, and the anticipation provides a special sense of fulfillment. Operatic arias are so placed as to whet anticipation. At times we even long to hear the piece all over again as soon as it is over, as an aria is sometimes repeated in response to the jubilant calls from the audience. With earned familiarity, Berg, Bartok, and Shostakovich also reward us with the joy of anticipation.

With each repeated experience of these classic works, we hear the music in greater depth, and the pleasure invariably increases. Not only do we ever tire of listening to the same music periodically, over and over, it gets better. It is surely not only for the conservative cast of the aging audience at classic concerts that the standard works in the repertory are tireless repeated and new works tend to be slighted in programming. Nor is it merely the comfort of habit that familiar works attract more attentive listeners. Familiar works are supported by the solid aesthetics of joyful anticipation. New works are taxing to take in; they are often more work than pleasure.

In the 20th century modernism, however, novelty was given an undue premium. It was assumed that the public is hungry for new works and the artists were expected to aspire for innovation in order to be respectably creative. If they did not come up with something fresh and different, they were censored for lacking in originality. “It’s the same old thing; there is nothing new; this has been done before,” critics insist. Aesthetic fatigue may seem to explain our appetite for novelty.

Daily routine at work or at home drives us to take a break and make a vacation trip. Dishes too often repeated for dinner, even favorite ones, do bore us soon enough and we crave for something different. But daily meal, no less than daily work, holds limited aesthetic merit. Better works of art, by contrast, are much more complex, and great works are almost inexhaustibly profound in their aesthetic resources. That is what holds our interest time and again. Moreover, the stockpile of familiar old works of great merit is enormous; if we get tired of one composer, we turn to another, and yet another. There is little chance we’d be left aesthetically fatigued.

There is something atavistic in the joy of anticipation as E. M. Forster said of storytelling in . In our childhood waiting for Christmas, birthday, and the end of the school year was as intense an experience as the final arrival of the awaited day. A child often asks tirelessly to be read the same book at the bedside night after night, or return to it after another book; joy of anticipation and recognition evidently underlies this proclivity. In our adult life, too, we experience a very special satisfaction in re-visiting a foreign city we have visited before, and we are likely to retrace the sights we already know even when we came to discover new sights. We rearrange furniture in the house “for a change,” sometimes surely “for the better” to improve the pattern of circulation. The new arrangement is awkward at first and becomes satisfying only after we have learned the landmarks and the way to places and things, that is, to navigate effortlessly, that is, with anticipation. This is how we settle in the new neighborhood after our move into a new house; with each perambulation we get to know the place in further details with increasing pleasure.

The pleasure we experience on our return home after a long trip is of the same nature. In fact, our yen for a trip may well be motivated by the joy of anticipation in the return trip homeward. We need new works to expand our taste and satisfy our explorative instinct; but they also help intensify our joy of anticipation in experiencing familiar works.

What is true of music applies, of course, to other arts, Shakespeare is performed all over the place all the time everywhere. Ibsen, Chekhov, and Tennesse Williams always attract eager audience. Old movies don’t bore us, even those that are less than masterpieces. When we visit a museum in far away places, we look for works of familiar artists or works we have heretofore known only in reproductions. “It should be here somewhere,” we say, and move from gallery to gallery, and we exclaim, “Here it is!” Recognition fulfills our anticipation.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

三度の食事 - Three meals


Preparing three meals every day takes surprisingly a lot of time, but making something delicious and eating it is a great pleasure. I am not always successful but when everything comes out well it is a triumph.

Unhappiness - 不幸感

Unhappiness is your own making. I heard in passing a snatch of a radio interview with a psychotherapist (Gary Greenberg, I think the name was). I happen to believe it myself no less than that happiness is your own making. I experienced recently that failing to fall asleep easily made me think about the difficulty of falling asleep as I tried to fall asleep and the thinking made it still harder to fall asleep. Misery in life exists, whatever the condition of one’s life; and so long as it exists it is hard not to think about it. But the feeling of misery can be controlled. Focusing on it makes one feel more miserable; and refocusing one’s attention to better things in life lessens it considerably. Feeling depressed deepens one’s depression, and thinking about one’s feeling depressed deepens it further. I also learned from a Harvard study that those of us aging, if we reminisce and live over our earlier happy days we remain happy and live longer healthier and happier.

不幸は自分で作るものと, ある精神療法の専門家の会話をちょっとラヂオで耳にしましたけど、私は、幸も不幸も自分で作るものともともと信じていました。最近の事ですけど、夜なかなか寝付かれなくて、寝付かれないと、その事が頭にこびりついて、そう考えるにつけ、ますます頭が冴えて更に寝付かれなくなり、苦労しました。人生には、上下を問わず、苦労困窮はつきもので、頭から取り除く事は出来ませんけど, 惨めな気持ちは適当に管理する事は出来るものです。惨めな事に集中すればますます惨めになり、人生の明るい面に注意を向ければそれだけ惨めさをある程度減少させられるでしょう。憂鬱だと沈み込めばより憂鬱になり、その事を考える続ければなお一層憂鬱になりますね。最近の、ハーヴァードの研究によると、我々老人は、昔の楽しかった日々を思い出し、再度経験できると、深い幸福感が得られ、先長く健康で、幸福に満ちた余生を送る事が出来るそうです。

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kindness - 親切

Kindness well-intentioned, when obtrusive, becomes intrusive.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Doing it

Most people do it, and those who do it would rather do it, I’m sure, than watch it being done, and those who don’t but want to do it are presumably more likely put off watching others do it; and those who haven’t done it but are curious about doing it can always find others doing it on internet. I’m talking about copulating scenes on the screen, less politely called fucking, which filmmakers these days seem to like to show liberally, on the dubious rationale that doing it is a part of everyday life, and show it even gratuitously at every chance they can, as though they get more satisfaction showing their characters doing it than doing it themselves. There were days when a man and a woman couldn’t lie down on the same bed. The Hays Code, until 1968, censored a scene as suggestive if a woman sat on the bed in her bedroom in which a man was present, and banned the word pregnant uttered by anyone. Thank goodness we are more liberal today and I applaud us for that. Still, the abundance of gratuitous copulations on the screen has become rather excessive. They began to appear even on the stage of late -- simulated, to be sure. Eroticism is by and large more effective suggested than shown. But who knows. I may be out of sync with the changing times. The majority of film viewers today may rather watch the fictional characters do it than doing it themselves in the privacy of their home, a motel room, a parked car, or a park bench in the dark.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Les herbes folles (2009)

Alain Renais completed his latest film, Les herbes folles (Wild Grass), in his 87th year, and it is, in my opinion, his best. The narrative event (based on L’incident by Christian Gailly) is simple; a woman, Marguerite Muir (Sabine Azéma), loses her purse to a purse snatcher, and George Palet (André Dussolier), a married man in his 50s, finds her billfold in a garage, attempts to return it, becomes obsessed with its owner, and pursues her, while she, who spurns him first, becomes obsessed with him and starts to pursue him.

The narrative is fluid in its continuity but disjunctive in its logic. Ultimately, we are not sure what incident in the story actually happened (if any) and if her obsession is also a fictive concoction in his obsessed mind. Like certain events from our childhood, which we seem to remember as something we actually did but may be in large part what we were told we did by parents and siblings and has become entangled in our memory. Fiction and reality do get confused if we lose our mind but, even when we are sane and sober, if we let our mind wander and float away on its own. This happens when we awaken suddenly from a drowsy stupor or when we daydream without constraint. Obsessions in these conditions grow adventitious and rampant. George goes to a police station to return the billfold; the scene is a bit absurd and not quite believable. Marguerite’s car tires were slashed; we don’t see the slashing but we see her believing that he did it. Yet it could well be that he imagined that she thought he did it. We are never sure. His fantasy spreads all over the place, like rhizomes -- like crabgrass that creeps and spreads -- as we see in an early shots of a paved walk. The English title Wild Grass is quite inadequate; the French fou/fol/folle means wild, foolish, and crazy all at the same time: rampant and adventitious.

We have seen films in which imagined events presented themselves obtrusively as reality in the works of Fellini, Buñuel, and Resnais himself. But whereas L’année derniére à Marienbad moves ethereally in poetic stream-of-onsciousness, Les herbes is more solidly anchored in seeming actuality. It is more resilient -- an ebullient joyride all the way on his flight of imagination.

The film audience today assumes that a film narrates an event, fictitious or real, in a realistic way, as an event that had happened as it happens in reality. This assumption goes all the way back to the presumed realistic nature of photography, that a camera captures the real world honestly and accurately. This has long been proven false, except for the witness role of the camera; the camera was at the site and recorded what occurred in front of it. In film history, this realistic bias was reinforced by Italian neorealism and then the New Wave, that rejected the artificiality of Hollywood classics and insisted on film’s documentary capacity. The audience, expecting the film to tell a straight narrative, is therefore easily confused. Many were befuddled to judge by the overheard conversations: “Whatever happened, I’d like to know,” “I couldn’t make head or tail of it,” “I lost it after ten minutes.”

As the director himself said in an interview (TimeOut NY, 769): “I often mix up what I remember and what’ actually real.” Thank goodness for that; we do, too, and love it.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Night owl's Narcolepsy

Trying to sleep more than six hours a night, I developed narcolepsy -- sleepy during the day and alert at night. In order to give myself 8 hours of sleep recommended for a healthy life, I started to sleep late in the morning because by habit it is impossible to get sleepy enough to go to bed before midnight (5 July, "Night owl sleeps"). Getting up late in the morning, like 9:00, kept me awake later and later at night into wee hours, like 4:00 and 4:30. So, I set the alarm at 7:00 and forced myself to get up early so that I would get sleepy earlier at night. Provisionally, I established the regimen of retiring at midnight and getting up at 8:00. But I was still tired and sleepy most of the day -- morning, afternoon, and evening. My circadian cycle was totally skewed, and I was suffering narcolepsy.

Then, even rising at 7:00, it became difficult to fall asleep easily at night. I would toss and turn and the sleeplessness got worse because I became conscious of the difficulty of falling asleep and the moment I find myself about to fall asleep I realize that I am about to fall asleep and then start thinking if I would successfully fall asleep, and instantly I am alert. I could count sheep but I could go to 500 and the mind gets clearer. I could get some sleeping pills; but I don’t like to resort to pills in general. I had a glass of wine one night before going to bed, and that worked. I had some beer another night somewhat earlier at night; I tried brandy, too. But nightcap is not good for my diabetes. Finally, I succeeded in maintaining wakefulness during the day and enjoy a good sleep at night -- for five days or so. Then, I reverted back to sleepy mornings and afternoons.

The 8-hour sleep apparently does not agree with me. If I go to bed at midnight and fall asleep immediately, I have to sleep until 8:00 in the morning. If I get up at 7:00 in the morning, I have to go to bed at 11:00 to make 8 hours. So, I decided my constitution is genetically made for 6 hours of sleep at night. The daily schedule of retiring at 1:00 a.m. and rising at 7:30 (for now) or perhaps 7:00 (eventually) seems a workable routine, and after three days I seem to have adjusted my circadian cycle and it looks like I am getting out of narcolepsy. My mind has always been clearest at around 2:00 a.m., however.

Ravishing Wagner

It occurred to me this morning that the two words, ravish and rape are cognates, both derived from the Latin rapere, to seize.

To rape is to seize by force and violate a woman; horrendous as it is, a woman raped, obviously from the male point of view, is ravished -- rapt, enraptured, even raptured, which means transported from earth to heaven, all derived from rapere. A similar dichotomy exists in capture and captivate.

This gave me an insight into Wagner’s operas. All my life, I hated Wagner. To avid Wagnerians such a statement is a sacrilege. I’ll be more reasonable and say that I have always held a strong resistance to Wagner. It is a matter of personal taste; but, on the other hand, it is a taste shared by my friends who think of the paradigm of the opera as Italian, where the beauty of the human voice is venerated for what it is by isolating the singing and framing it in the form of arias. For Wagner, on the other hand, the voice is only one of the symphonic instruments, submerged in the gushing torrent of sound.

I find Wagner self-indulgent to the extreme and his operas overwrought and unbearably domineering. I made efforts nonetheless and attended the Ring Cycle and most other works at the Met and elsewhere at least once, and I listen them on CD. As I write this, the radio is broadcasting Siegfried, a production of the LA Opera, the most overbearing of the four that make up the Ring, and listening to it symphonically without the burden of the dense mythology-invested theatricality, I am finding the music, woe to me, ravishing.

I had for some time, regarding Wagner’s opera, another notion -- that it is a kind of art that perhaps holds a special appeal to the masculine appetite for power in us, both women and men, but particularly the latter. His operatic creations are, above all, grander than grand -- grandiose; they require a colossal orchestra, superhuman voices, and long hours to perform. So, they exude an overpowering sense of power; if you are willing to submit yourself to them, they are empowering. Wagnerians find them awesome -- almost like a seismic catastrophe, a great conflagration, a volcanic eruption, a super-Godzilla -- and intoxicating; they delight in being transported into ecstasy, the state of being ravished.

Wagner means to ravish us. He takes hold of us and means to exercise a total control of us -- our intellect and our emotion. Every great work of art, to think of it, transports us to a higher level of consciousness. To those of us who resist Wagner, his force is coercive, perhaps dictatorial. He ravishes us whether we want to be ravished or not. The problem, I confess, is mine.

Sunday, July 18, 2010




I just remembered this physical game we teach an infant to do herself/himself:

Chôchi chôchi - Clap, clap with both hands,
Ah-wa, wa, wa, wa - Place a hand over the open mouth repeatedly
Kaiguri, kaiguri - Reel the two hands over each other round and round
Totto no me - Touch left open palm with the right index finger
Otsumu ten ten - Lightly tap the head with two hands
Hiji pon pon - Tap the left elbow with the right hand.

Out of the blue I remembered this rhyme, and even the pleasure of touching different parts of the body when I could do the movements only awkwardly.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Flight for fright  空中戦慄

Since I reached 50, among the things I seriously wanted to try doing but found myself too late for them with the passing of the years, the top item is getting a pilot certificate and fly an old monoplane, after which is buying a motorcycle and riding it around, and then learning the trapeze and high wire art. Once, before reaching 70, I passed by an outdoor circus school along the Hudson River in New York, and, gazing in envy, I thought there is no reason I can't do that but controlled myself with the thought that, if I fell and broke my bones, it will take years to mend. In my childhood, I had poor coordination and had aversion to physical contacts, and in consequence I had distaste for all sports, whether as a participant or as a spectator, but from sometime I came to be drawn to these dares, most likely from the desire for excitement experienced from the dangers of altitude and speed, like the sensation of looking down a deep valley atop a cliff and the thrill of facing a violent wind, something I started to cultivate since I learned to maneuver an automobile in high speed. Now, I have to give up flying, bike riding, and trapeze and satisfy myself with a roller coaster.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Night owl sleeps

Only three months ago (8 April, "Night owl") I wrote how I have always managed with 6 hours of sleep every night through my life. Occasionally to make up for the accumulated sleep debt, I would have a night of 8 or 9 hours of sleep. Otherwise if I slept more than 6 hours, I often felt lethargic the next day. But in these three months I started to notice that I get drowsy during the day and sometimes needed a nap in the afternoon. I started to think that perhaps I needed more sleep. At 77, I realized, I am no longer 70, though logically with slower metabolism in advancing age, I should need less sleep than when I was younger. Then, a few days ago I read an article in the July-August Harvard Magazine that, for those workaholics who sleep six or fewer hours a day -- some 16% of the population -- ten hours of sleep at once recharge us but only for a short term and sleep deficit is never recovered. More alarmingly, the Guardian reported recently (5 May, from the journal Sleep) that people who sleep less than six hours a night are 12% more likely to experience a premature death over the period of 25 years (unless one belongs to the population's 3% with a certain inherited genetic mutation). Statistics states generalities which may or may not apply to individual cases. Still, this is a troublesome news to someone like myself who aspires to live to 100. So, I now started to rise later since it it difficult for a hardcore night owl to retire before midnight. After the first night of 8-hour sleep, I found myself alert all afternoon the next day; but after a few nights of almost 8-hours of sleep, I was getting sleepy again right after breakfast. So, we'll see.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Applause as an expression of approval is today universal. We applause by clapping hands to welcome a speaker, to hail a celebrity, and to show appreciation at the end of a performance, or at the end of a number as in ballet or of an aria in opera. If the performance is exceptional, we shout "Bravo" while clapping. In recent years, we find certain members of the audience at the opera and ballet who, with or without applause, howl and yowl, even screech and squeal. They are by and large a young crowd on the balcony but I have noticed some over 30. Their noise-making makes me think that it is a carryover from rock concerts and sport events, and I find it uncouth and inappropriate, that is to say, vulgar and annoying, no less than the bad habit of some spectators who talk during the performance as though they were at home watching television. We must remind ourselves, nevertheless, that the practice of clapping hands in approval is a convention, too, apparently historically rather recent. There are, after all, other forms of applause -- stomping the feet, snapping the fingers, groaning, and knocking the table with the knuckle. We need young audience, of course, to sustain and support opera and ballet in the future, and it is not inconceivable that decades from now the practice of screaming to express approval may establish itself as a norm. Mercifully I shan't be around.

猫背 Stoop

あたし、30代の頃から、立っていても,歩いていても,背中を丸くして前屈み,亀みたいに首を前に突き出しているのが写真に残っていますけど,ニューヨークに住むようになってから、町を歩いていると、ショーウィンドーに映る自分の姿を見せられて,いやおうなしに姿勢に気が付き、背中を延ばして、肩をひいて、大股で闊歩することにしてます。それで、母がやっぱり40歳の頃から猫背だったのを思い出します。骨粗鬆(しょう)症 だったのでしょうね。あたし受け継ぎましたけど、知ったのはロンドンのホテルの狭いシャワーで転んだあとで、66歳の時でした。身長8cmほど失いましたけど,姿勢は良くなりました。

Already in my 30s, I tended to stoop forward, standing or walking, with the shoulders rounded and the neck pulled out like a turtle, as I appear in photographs, but, since moving to New York, walking on the street, I am constantly made aware of my own image reflected in store windows; and thus, checking my posture, learned to straighten my back, pull up the shoulders, and walk in stride, and I remembered Mother who had, since she was about 40, a nekoze, the cat's rounded shoulder, as we say in Japanese. It was evidently osteoporosic, and I inherited it, of which I learned only in 1999 after a fall in a London hotel when I was 66. I lost something like 3 inches but my posture is much better now.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Red: Rothko on Stage

Alfred Molina played Mark Rothko on stage in John Logan’s Red, a Donmar Warehouse production. His impassioned performance was impressive, Michael Grandage’s direction was effectively composed, and the set replicated the artist’s studio credibly. Yet the play, for me, lacked credibility, despite the raving reviews it received both in London and here in New York. My immediate reaction was why Rothko rather than an unnamed artist, if the play’s point was the internal struggle of a tortured artist. But the point, for Logan, was evidently Rothko.

The problem was with the play itself. It was conceived as a docudrama on stage, an impossible enterprise. A documentary makes use of documents; so, a documentary film compiles the footage of real people and place, stock or newly shot. But in the process of editing, the filmmaker would bring to the work her/his point of view, and, in this manner, fictionalizes it by default. Enacted on stage, a play cannot realize its set and characters except by reconstruction. Logan’s Red is therefore a fiction aspiring to be a documentary but, given that such is an impossibility, can only be a fiction pretending to be a documentary. The final effect, therefore, lacks conviction. It is a fake, patently false, a fiction which should have presented itself as faction.

Representation of artists on film and stage is rarely convincing. But an instructive comparison is Edward Albee’s The Occupant, as the title read, which portrayed Louise Nevelson. In this play the artist, played by Mercedes Ruehl, is interviewed by an anonymous interviewer after her death. In each play, an actor mimics a celebrated artist. The lines the actor is given to speak, in each case, are drawn from the artist’s biographical material. In this sense, the text is documentary. But whereas Molina impersonates Rothko’s actions -- his activities in the studio, Ruehl taking on the persona of Nevelson talks about the artist’s life and art as she might have spoken in interviews during her lifetime. Ruehl’s Nevelson is fully credible. This is because Albee’s play is not a fiction pretending to be a documentary. Rather, it is a documentary constructed into a dramatic fiction.

Fictionalized biography of any kind is tricky. It is generally successful in writing; examples of biographical and historical novels are abundant. Margaret Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian is one preeminent case that comes to my mind. Writing allows the reader to create the character in her/his mind. A visual medium -- film or stage -- renders the characterization of the subject concrete; the viewer is given an image which is by default fraudulent. It is perhaps no surprise that in Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon, also from Donmar Warehouse and directed by Michael Grandage, Frank Langella’s president was credible; the substance of this play was a series of Frost’s interviews of Nixon.

My dissatisfaction with Red was real. But it took me days of mulling over the play and its presumed failure. The explanation may be totally off the track, of course; it is, after all, only an opinion of one seasoned theater goer.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Okada Toshiki 岡田利規 Enjoy

小川あやの巧妙な英訳による,「エンジョイ」の公演を,今年の春ニューヨークで観たのが、岡田利規の作品に接した最初でした。そして、早速原文の本、「エンジョイ・アワー・フリィータイム」、を入手して読んだのですけど, 最近の若い世代の不安定な思考及び心理状態が、若者言葉で表されているのは、アメリカに永住の年寄りのあたしにとっては興味深いことでしたけど、それ以上に感心させられたのは、俳優が配役の人物を演じつつ同じ俳優がその人物について語るという形式で、現実の社会とか生活の一部をを模倣するとか要約するという常套な演劇でなく、というよりそれに重ねて、演劇とは何だろうと云うとか、そんなふうな、岡田氏自身の疑問を戯曲化したような作品であるということです。その点で、注目すべき傑作だと思いました。


Last spring in New York, I saw the production of "Enjoy" in Aya Ogawa's ingenious translation (directed by Swarthmore's own Dan Rothenberg), and this was my first encounter with the work of Okada Toshiki. Immediately I ordered the book in the original, "Enjoy·Hour·Freetime" and read it through, and found the current youth's intellectual and psychological instability expressed in their vernacular of particular interest to this elderly reader settled in the US, but more than that I was impressed how the playwright, adopting the form that allows the actors to act the characters and at the same time comment on those characters, eschewed or, rather, perhaps layered over, the conventional theater which replicates or summarizes an aspect of the real society or life, and created a work which addressed Okada's own doubting question as to what the theater is, and, so to speak, made it into a theater; and in this regard this is a noteworthy masterpiece.

A few weeks after "Enjoy" I saw, also in New York, an English rendering of "Five days in March" and subsequently read it in Japanese together with "The Plural of my Place" edited in his volume "The End of the Special Time Allowed Us," and, again, in the form of a novella, the author, instead of relying on a simple representation, attempts to probe deep into the layered consciousness and sense perception and succeeds in bringing to light the reality of this effort; and I was deeply impressed.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Authority, it seems to me, has progressively corroded during the half-century of my adult life. It has become overshadowed, perhaps, by the word's more negative derivatives: "authorize" and "authoritarian." It has come to be seen that authority sanctions authorization and justifies authoritarian actions. If we track back to the root of authority, it is "author." The author wrote the book. If, by "book," we mean more strictly a treatise, a systematic study of a given subject, or a document (as in the word's etymology), rather than any literary composition (as it is commonly understood today), the author claims by right the authority on that subject for having written it for public inspection. The author's authority thus merits respect and endows power. The author, exercising that power, authorizes, and, in excess, becomes authoritarian. In the area of knowledge I can claim authority, I insist on a tight hold on it.

英語の "authority" は "author" の派生語ですから、権力の意味は含意していても、厳密には「著者としての実権、又は影響力」とでも云った意味だと思いますが、日本語では、オーソーリティとも、又は第一人者と云いますけど、訳語は漢語をそのまま借用した「権威」で、英訳すれば  ”might by right”  でしょうか。著者を権力者にしてしまう感じです。

In Japanese, we say phonetically "authority" or, otherwise, "dai-ichi-nin-sha" (Number One Person) but the proper translation is "ken-i" borrowed from Chinese, which signifies something like "might by right." This seems to make the author ("chosha") by definition authoritarian. But "auctoritas" in Latin apparently already had extended meanings from "invention" to "influence" and "command."


More and more I see people writing "arguably" when they mean "unarguably." "Arguably" means "open to debate," and if one means "indisputably" the word is unarguably "unarguably."

Monday, May 24, 2010

Springtime in Manhattan

During the second week of May, Bryant Park in mid-town displayed an installation/prformance piece, Walk the Walk, by Kate Gilmore, chosen and supported by the Public Art Fund. Unfortunately, I missed seeing it in person but my friend Frank Moscatelli did and provided me with this beautiful photograph.

The work consists of a cube the size of a cubicle-size office, painted yellow, on the top of which six women in fluttering yellow dresses walk randomly but intently. The vivid yellow recalls the first spring blossoms -- forsythia, crocus, and daffodil, and the stereometric box of such height as to force us to look up at the women echoes the office buildings around the park, while the lush foliage of the plane trees in contrast harmonize with the moving human bodies.

Simple as it is in form, the work is rich in its layered images, all pertinent to Manhattanites who daily negotiate in cramped spaces at home and at work, and wade between crowding bodies in their commutes no less than in stores and theaters and sidewalks, especially the emblematic Times Square, where gawking tourists intermingle uncomfortably with the locals who stride on in a hurry, whether purposefully or aimlessly. The box allows people to step in and experience the metropolitan claustrophobia with the clicking of heels overhead magnified to loud clangs.

The most intriguing reference is Giacometti's City Square, now in MoMA, where the spindly figures crisscross without exchanging glances in their anonymous urban existence. But spring comes regardless, always worthy of celebration.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Experimental is the term often applied to certain works in art, music, dance, film, and theater, when they are considered to be novel, unconventional, or tentative, but more often in those instances when the artist is uncertain or wavering, or simply lacks a clear idea of what she or he is doing. The term bothers me interminably.

Experiment is a scientific term, and it concerns the procedure of testing a hypothesis. What the experiment is designed to achieve is a well-defined goal; the testing is tentative. It is not open-ended. In French, the word for experiment is l'expérience, and we learn that the two words are cognates, deriving from experiri (Lat. try). Experiment is a clinically controlled experience. Rehearsals consitute a series of experiments, testing by trial and error, to reach the final product satisfactory to the director and the production crew. If a theater company decides to put on a play that is blindingly novel "just to see how it goes," the audience should protest being treated like guinea pigs and refuse to pay to see it. If its goal is clearly defined, the play's staggering novelty may shock the audience but with the hypothesis exposed articulately it can impress and persuade.

An accomplished work, I contend, should be called innovative, not experimental; a haphazard effort, if truly experimental, should be described as a test piece and withheld from the paying audience.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Night owl

I am a notorious night owl. I rarely go to bed before 1:00 a.m. More often than not it is close to 2:00 when I finish up the night's work, usually writing. In my younger days, I sometimes stayed up all night of necessity, trying to finish writing a lecture for the next day or the paper to present at a meeting. This is a carryover from my student days in architecture when we learned to "charette" to make the deadline for a project. We were told that the word refers to the cart on which the painter rode with his or her submission to the exhibition being hauled to the Salon. The longest stretch of time I stayed up without any sleep was three nights straight. The intensity of work was always exciting, and the camaraderie in the studio among the charetting classmates was uplifting. There is also something thrilling and very special when the sky starts to lighten up at dawn and birds start chirping. The whole town is asleep, and you are alone working. It is so quiet. There is a feeling of claiming the world all for yourself. 03.01.02

Disabled toilet

Disabled Toilet is the sign that appears on certain doors of public toilets in London. I took it to mean at first that the toilet is out of order; but what it meant was actually the toilet for the handicapped, or disabled, persons, not the toilet that is disabled. This is like the road sign that reads "Deer Crossing," which I always find amusing and shout, "Where, where? I don't see any, do you?"

Happiness 幸福感

Happiness is being content with what one has, not idly wishing for more but wishing without bothering to entertain the possibility of having more yet always ready to welcome any such possibility.

The past was good enough but the present is so much better. I don't know what the future holds but what comes will come, good or bad. I am content to be happy in the present. There are people who think the present is bad enough and it could only get worse in the future. I pity them.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Saving labor

Saving saves -- sometimes. But by and large when you save one way you lose another way. There is always a trade-off, some obvious, some hidden.

Merchandise that goes on sale, touted as a saving, we all know, is a gimmick for leading gullible consumers to buy what they don't really need by suggesting that they are saving while the merchant succeeds in selling more for profit. Overstock is seemingly a convincing rationale for putting items on sale but it only says that they got overstocked because they didn't sell and most likely for good reasons.

Saving money for rainy days is wise; but saving is a folly when it is achieved at the expense of necessities, or even of occasional forays into treats and sprees.

But the greatest folly of all is saving labor.

The idea is, of course, to reduce physical work, thus making time for credibly nobler activities. So, in the modern era, mechanical, and later motorized, contraptions of all kinds came to be invented for human benefit on the assumption that the use of elbow grease is lowly, wasteful, and despicable. American ingenuity, in particular, thrived, and the higher level of living was measured by the prevailing reliance on machines, from the power mower to the electric shaver. We all rely on them, to which we became sometimes enslaved. We held such faith in the virtue of saving labor that we rarely asked where the precious saved time and labor have been reapplied. Where does the labor saved in brushing teeth electrically rather than manually go, I ask.

Time is a fixed resource, and saving time by saving labor should create opportunities for more elevated pursuits, and undoubtedly it does -- to a degree. But I find it curious that many engage in physical labor by jogging, doing gym exercises, and playing sports, in order to recuperate the labor nominally saved but apparently lost by our reliance on power appliances and tools.

Time is money, we are told. But like money, time saved is costly. Only in recent years, green Americans are being awakened to the consumption of enormous energy in all time- and labor-saving devices. The wise advice today is "walk, don't ride," "use your hands and arms," and "go mechanical rather than electric". Those of us who grew up in "underdeveloped" conditions in the old countries had learned long ago to take for granted that work is work and learned to value the art and pleasure of using our body efficiently.

If the drive for a greener world succeeds, it will be a revolutionary turn for the long established American lifestyle. But, alas, the less developed countries will be catching up in the labor-saving frenzy American way.

deep tan

This is how I looked when I was deep into getting a deep tan, which I started in 1998 and continued ten summers until 2008. In 2009 I was busy with the moving from Swarthmore to New York and didn't get any tan, and I quit tanning.

This is how I looked when I was darkest. Yes, I did look different, ethnically. See DeepDeepTan (

Friday, April 2, 2010

Spring arrives

Yellows in the park
crocus daff’dill forsythia,
they light up my soul.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Learning faces

An anonymous face, once learned, stands out and becomes easily recognized and identified in a crowd.

This is true of any process of learning -- words, symbols, paintings, names, book titles, quotations, kanji characters, car models, and whatever. As an art historian I was trained in connoisseurship and learned to detect individual styles in works of art. Yet I am slow learning faces.

I have taught classes, and at the first meeting, I see all those new faces, all anonymous. In time I begin to recognize them by and by. Some faces are easier to commit to mind than others -- those with distinct features, that is, those with distinguishing traits by which I register the face: a wide forehead, an aquiline nose, a big mole, a pouting mouth, a receding chin, etc. Conventionally good-looking faces are harder to remember. I admire their beauty but they get lost as a blur once they merge into a crowd.

The face I learned to recognize remains indelible in my mind. A chance encounter after many years with someone I knew is sometimes disorienting because the face fails to match the one etched in my mind. Conversely, I see a face from the long past and it takes me a moment to realize that it can't be the person I identify it with because it is undoubtedly no longer that face, having aged surely, perhaps even beyond recognition.

These thoughts come to me time and again watching ballet and trying to learn the faces of the dancers. Male dancers are easier to remember; their more bony features distinguish individuals better. Ballerinas, with their hair pulled back, identically dressed, and holding a pasted grin on the face, are very difficult to learn. But a few faces in the corps that I managed to recognize, once learned, stand out in the line up immediately as the curtain rises; and, once learned, they are never forgotten. But the rest remain all alike.

It is curious that the face I learned to recognize was anonymous and totally indistinguishable, if undistinguished, too, before it became recognizable.

There is nothing very substantial about this observation. But I find it fascinating and a bit mysterious. I had to get it out of my system.

Faces, faces, faces

Living in New York, I see many faces. Since I go everywhere on foot or by public transportation, instead of driving in the protective but isolating capsule called the automobile, I can say I see hundreds of faces everyday.

I enjoy looking at faces; in particular, I enjoy watching faces in the subway train, where seats are generally arranged in two parallel rows facing each other so that I have a panorama of faces across from wherever I sit, and I can watch them without being recognized that I am watching.

Faces come in all shapes and sizes, and I scrutinize them. I compare their features. Noses are fascinating. But I study eyes and eyebrows and foreheads, too; I examine the hair and hairlines; I examine the forehead, nostrils, lips, cheeks, chin, and the complexion. Yes, the ears, too, and they are most fascinating. I check out the bodies and their comportment, as well as the hands and feet; but the faces keep me busy. I recognize different ethnics stocks from all over the world.

I imagine how those age-worn faces looked like when they were young, and, conversely, I try to project what those tender young faces will look like decades from now. I wonder where they came from and where they are heading, and how they spend their day. I speculate what kind of work they do and whether they are what they look like or they look like nothing like what they do for living. I get curious what book a person is reading if she or he is reading and strain my eyes to see the title and patiently wait for the book to get tilted just so that I can read the title.

And I realize I missed the stop I was going to get off at. Oy vey.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


I don't know if the dead grieves, their own death or those whom she or he had left behind. It's something I will not know until I'm dead; but, then, I won't be able to tell anyone alive.

But death ravages the bereaved. It wrenches our heart and tears our body and soul; and we grieve privately and mourn in funerary rites publicly. To those of us reared in older cultures, the American custom of mourning turned upside down into celebration of life, which is more and more prevalent of late, seems a curious perversion. It bespeaks optimism cosmetically forced on the dead; it is meant to comfort the bereaved but deprives them of the indispensable process of healing. The wake does not celebrate; it tries to make the loss bearable as we mourn. Funerals are for grieving.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Bomb Exploded

A bomb exploded in the neighborhood. It was a fine April morning in 1942. The blast was shattering; the whole house shook. As a nine-year old, I thought I was deafened and blinded momentarily. It took only a few seconds to realize that I was alive and so were Mother and my sister two years younger. Father was already away in Singapore.

Air raid warning was in effect for a few hours that pleasant morning, but as best as I could remember it was only another practice warning. Shortly after 12:00 noon, we heard the All Clear siren. So, the three of us sat down for lunch. Right at that moment there was the blast and the earth shook and appeared to collapse. After that it was all quiet. The blast was nothing like an earthquake tremor -- even the very intense kind; we knew those well. This was a detonation though I had no idea what it was; I didn't even know the word. It was a completely new experience.

Four months had passed since the outbreak of the war, and the radio fed us news of Japan's continuing victory overseas. As we ate, we wondered what the blast was. We said it was perhaps an explosion at an armory somewhere; but we also thought we saw the shadow of a huge plane flying low over the house; but the idea of an enemy plane flying over Tokyo was simply unreal.

But that was what it was. We learned later in the afternoon, that American planes flew over Tokyo and bombed the city. We figured that the plane that came our way targeted the Yoyogi military training ground, north of the residential area, Aoyama, where our house stood. Either the bomber missed the target badly or, more likely, it dropped one left-over bomb on the way back from the mission. I never knew the extent of the damage it caused. I only know that it did not close enough to decimate us.

But we also learned that afternoon that a five-year old boy, returning from a friend's house minutes after the All Clear siren, was found dead up on a branch of a huge tree.

The blast was a tremendous shock; but in retrospect it was only a firecracker. Before long, Tokyo was subjected to massive air raids that made bomb blasts a routine event and severed body parts strewn on sidewalks a common sight. As a child, I was spared from seeing them in the flesh; but I heard enough about them. Later, the city lay in conflagration under the nightly raids of incendiary bombs that unbundled in midair like fireworks out of control and came down with an ominous hissing sound. Eventually we were evacuate and took refuge in a remote village, where we were safe but starved from shortage of food.

In 1952, after finishing high school, I sailed to California. It was not until 1970 that I learned about the first air raid over Tokyo. John Toland's book, The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945 came out in that year, and I read it with interest. In it, I read that on April 18, 1942, at dawn, sixteen B-25 bombers, each with four 500-lb bombs, flew from the aircraft carrier Hornet and reached Japan's mainland and accomplished the very first air raid of Tokyo virtually unsuspected by the Japanese military. Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle commanded the mission.

So, that was it. The blast struck terror. But we were evidently well outside the damage radius of 450 meters or 1500 feet where the bomb fell. So, our house did not collapse -- for the time being; but I was awakened with a jolt to the reality of the war.

Monday, March 22, 2010

William Christie's Hand

What a hand it is, his left hand. I was at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) last night for the performance of two Baroque operas, Charpentier's Actéon and Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, conducted by William Christie, founder and artistic director of the ensemble, Les Arts Florissants.

The performance was consummate -- instruments, singing, and stage direction -- all so exquisite, all as I anticipated from my knowledge of the group in recording. But it was Christie's left hand that mesmerized me.

He conducted while playing the harpsichord; so, even though occasionally he stood up and used both arms to conduct, he was relying predominantly on his left hand. By luck I sat in the fifth row to the side and could watch his conducting intently. His whole arm was eloquent but, in particular, his hand danced as though in a choreography set to the music. It waved dreamily, it rippled nervously, it fluttered like a leaf in the breeze, then, suddenly it whipped, tumbled, and crushed the air, then the fingers curled in a violent grip and then opened in explosion, and then wriggled spasmodically, and gently glided afloat in the air, all in perfect unison with the music, capturing all the musical subtleties and dramatic excitements.

Watching his hands, one heard the music articulated meticulously and ever so expressively, which is no surprise, since the conductor's hand was guiding the musicians and the singers to do exactly that. Obvious. Still mesmerizing just the same.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Knowing What One Does Not Know

To be able to say "I don't know" with confidence, when we don't know, shows that the speaker knows exactly what she knows and what she doesn't. It is the most valuable knowledge one should acquire early and adhere to continuously. It promotes learning to the extent that it presses one to fill the gap in a hurry in order to avoid saying it too often and looking foolish. I owe this advice to Mother, who insisted that I say "I don't know" unless I know for sure that I know what I know.


Knowledge does not promise understanding. I lived abiding by this dictum; I adapted it from the quotation attributed to Heraclitus: Much learning does not teach understanding. In my mind, knowledge is totally intellectual -- useful but incomplete. Understanding is experiential and all-encompassing; it mobilizes intellect, senses, and emotion. This is what art is all about; this is its raison-être.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Early March

Snow in March flutters,
melting as it falls; it makes
my coat all too black.

Cold wind on the cheeks
is not making me shiver.
Spring is almost here.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Orchid Phalaenopsis

A dear friend sent me this orchid - Phalaenopsis -- on my 77th birthday when she learned that this was a special birthday in Japan. It is utterly gorgeous.

Blocked view

I have nothing against tall men; tall handsome men can be delightful. But when a tall man walks in front me on a crowded sidewalk, I am inordinately annoyed because he blocks the view of my path just like an SUV driving in front of me. There is always that perturbation arising from the uncertainty that it might at any time slow down and I might incur a rear end collision. I am above average in height; so, I must qualify and say, instead of tall men, men taller than I, and women, too. A tall big head in front of me, male or female, annoys me, too, in a theater; but there is no impending fear, is there, of bumping into it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

History again

History is nothing but a story,
said Thomas Carlyle.
The two words descend from historia.
So, history as an account falsifies,
by design or by default,
deliberately by embellishment or distortion,
thus concocting a fiction,
or else by reasoned selectivity,
or inadvertently by omission.

Friday, February 12, 2010

New Cooper Union

Cooper Union's new building by Thom Mayne of the Morphosis, completed late last year, is an 9-story block with a gash in the middle. It is a "Le Corbusier for New York", a monument of the 20th Century Modernism, a fine exemplar of what I call "erectional architecture," asserting its external presence in command of the environment, the last of the breed, so to speak, of which Frank O. Gehry represents messier examples. The interior is dominated by the grand stairs that go straight up to the fourth floor, much too steep for sitting on, even for stepping up and down, existing more as a showy display than for daily circulation, for which monumental volume, classroom, studios, and offices are shoved around it along mundane double-decked corridors. The Lincoln Center development by Diller, Scofidio + Renfro is an effort in piecemeal assemblage, which accomodates the surrounding urban fabric more sensitively and perhaps better looks forward to the architecture of this century.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Mother's Rhyme

I was trying to remember the finger game Mother used to play on my face so as to ease my anger when as an irritable child I sulked. I checked the rhyme on line but found only a Kyoto version; Mother was Edokko (Tokyo born).

子供の頃, 怒りん棒のあたしの苛立ちをおさめようと母が指先で顔をなぞって遊んだ時の唄を思い出そうとしてオンラインで調べた所、京都の唄が見付かりましたけど、あたしのとは少し違います。。母は江戸っ子でした。

愛宕山に参って(あたま)   あたごさんにまいって
下谷に寄って(ひたい)     たらたら道おりて
はなひとつつんで(はな)    毛虫にさされて
ほうぼうで叱られて(ほお)   花屋へよって
いけのはたまわった(くち)   花一本ぬすんで
無念なことよ(むね)      方々で目もろて
腹立つことよ(はら)      口おしや 腹立ちや 無念や
おへその下で茶を沸かせ。    音羽の滝の白糸さん


In Mother's version, she tickled the stomach to make me laugh at the end, but I think I'm missing a couple of lines in the middle.

I wrote my sister in Tokyo to ask, and I learned the few lines that I could not remember. Completed, it goes as follows:

愛宕山に参って (あたま) 
下谷に寄って  (ひたい)
花一本摘んで  (はな)
池之端を廻って (くち)
碁石を拾って  (は)
方々で叱られた (ほお)
無念なことよ  (むね)
腹立つことよ  (はら)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I am better at writing epigrams than extended expositions. Following Michel de Montaigne, I developed a taste for brevity; after all, I come from the land of haiku. But I also chose to be tutored by those literary women like Lady Sei Shônagon and Madame de Sévigné who elevated mundane observations into a literary genre, and for wit and irony I aspire to copy myself after Wilde and Shaw -- however feebly.


There is nothing in life as certain as death. Everyone dies sooner or later, and everyone knows this. But there is nothing in life as uncertain as to when and how one meets death, and there is really no preparing for it. It is useless to be obsessed with it but it is futile to ignore it totally. Such a thought passes one's mind reaching the age of 77.












Friday, January 22, 2010

Carmen - Garanca/Alagna

Hot flames but no spark. This was my impression of the
Carmen at the Met last night, featuring Elina Garanca
and Roberto Alagna, both of whom sang passionately. But,
curiously, they didn't collide. My heart didn't palpitate.


History is fiction in the cloak of facts, because
history, strictly speaking, is not events but writings
about events. Many forget this, or disregard it.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Puccini's 東天紅

I was at the Met to listen to Puccini's Turandot. All my life I thought he used Japanese and Chinese tunes indiscriminately in it. But I wondered about it. I knew that he took the tunes from the music box that belonged to a diplomat who spent years in China. So, finally, I looked into the matter on my return home. The boys' chorus in Act One sings "Là sui monti dell'Est la cicogna cantò," (On the mountaintop in the East a stork sang). On a Japanese website I learned that this <東天紅>(Crimson Eastern Sky) derives from the <茉莉花>(Mo Li Hua/まつりか/Jasmine Flower) and the tune was already known in Japan early in the 19th century and subsequently well acclimatized in Japan and therefore sounds Japanese to the Japanese ear, like <やーまのおてらのかねがなる> from <夕焼け>. Hmm.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My Cat Qif

Oooh, so comfy!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Street Scene

View across the street from my 3rd floor apartment window

Street Scene

My street is incredibly quiet, and it's in the middle of Manhattan. Cars go by only in certain hours, and there are long stretches during the day when there is no traffic at all. Pedestrian traffic is also low, except in mid-afternoon when students and school children walk by in small groups. I see the sky, a tree, and a row of handsome facades,
which, when the sun is out, deflects the reflection and, despite the northern exposure, brightens my apartment.

Monday, January 18, 2010

習得 − Acquisition


What's been acquired and lost
can be remembered.
What's never been learned
ever remains unknown.

Sunday, January 17, 2010




いねむり - Snooze

Because I'm older now,
I doze lately often, even during the day.
When I wake up, especially at dusk,
I feel shrouded in loneliness.
I snoozed, too, when I was younger,
from overwork in college days.
But I didn't wake up lonely, like this.

Friday, January 15, 2010


I attempted a translation of the Iroha Poem, dating from Late Heian Period, 10th-11th century.

いろはにほへと ちりぬるを
わかよたれそ つねならむ
うゐのおくやま けふこえて
あさきゆめみし ゑひもせす

色は匂へど 散りぬるを
我が世誰ぞ 常ならん
有為の奥山 今日越えて
浅き夢見じ 酔ひもせず

Colorful and fragrant, flowers scatter.
Nothing in this world is forever.
I cross life’s rugged mountain today.
This is no dream. I am ever sober.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Anyone who fails to distinguish between ”joke” and ”wit” proves to be a nitwit who will surely see no wit in what is said here.

Teaching Adults

Good teaching is not only a matter of the substance of the subject taught. Equally crucial is the pedagogics -- the way the material is dispensed and delivered. In order to assure that the material dispensed is efficiently received and absorbed by the students, it is essential that the teacher recognizes their character. The best teaching situation is therefore the Socratic method, and the ideal format is one-on-one dialogue. The teacher adjusts the material according to the capacity and propensity of the student and makes sure step by step that what has been said was fully understood. The principle applies to teaching a group, large or small. The teacher must reorganize the material and rethink its delivery whether the class is a group of mechanics, ballet dancers, school teachers, or the mixed audience. The teacher's task become more complex and challenging with a heterogeneous group. Teaching a class of college students is one thing; teaching a group of adults is another. Moreover, adult learners, even those uninitiated in the subject taught, are much more experienced in all aspects of life, more broadly read in various subjects, and more eager to learn. Replicating the college class lectures may be adequate for a course taught in a LifeLong Learning Program; but a pedagogic reconstruction is essential for the teaching to be better than adequate. So I think, and that's what I do.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Visual Text

Art History teaches works of art. In teaching art history, objects constitute the text. Those in the humanities who teach literary texts don't readily understand this elementary fact; some are incredibly dim-witted about it. Students studying Dickens are expected to come to class having read the assigned novel, and the professor gives them her ”explication de texte” consisting of the work's historical context and the diverse interpretations based on secondary sources. With older literature like Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Beowulf, and foreign literature in the original, the professor will have to go over the primary text together with the students first. Students studying works of art, left on their own, can get little beyond its general impression, something comparable to the summary plot of the assigned book. Literary material in art history is exclusively secondary sources, and close reading of the visual text -- objects -- must precede the critical discussion. Work in the art history class, therefore, compresses the exegesis of the visual text with that of the interpretive texts much more than is the general practice in literary courses. Relevant secondary sources are accordingly more effectively assigned after the particular work had been dealt with in the class. There are still such incurable idiots who think showing slides with a running commentary constitutes art history.


Slush wet and gray gleams
under the Manhattan sky
like mother-of-pearls.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Happy New Year

Snow falls silently -
everyday is New Year's Day
for my sleeping cat.



Saturday, January 9, 2010

Catching Terrorists

War against terrorism. I don't understand this. We've had war against poverty, war against crime, war against drug traffic, war against cancer. War is waged between two bodies -- between nations, between cities, between religious bodies, between individuals. Not only is the term misplaced; the metaphor is warped; the concept is wrong. A war is resolved by victory of one body over the other; there is the victor and the vanquished. The victor decimates the vanquished or the latter surrenders to the former and allows it to be incorporated, swallowed up, enslaved. Or else, a truce is drawn and the warring parties agree on a compromise. No society ever succeeded in eradicating crime; sickness and poverty, no less than drug use, will ever vanish from modern society. There is no victory over terrorism. To claim it as a goal is a deception. To believe that a potential terrorist can be screened and caught anywhere is a delusion. Terrorism can be dealt only as a crime, not as a war. The best we can do is to contain and abate it. But, of course, what do I know.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Full Body Scans

There is much debate on the full body scans at airports at a great expense. I'm surely not the first to say this but a simpler and cheaper solution is neither a full body scan nor a full strip search but a full strip down for all. Have the passengers go aboard the plane fully naked, and if all are publicly and democratically naked there is no invasion of privacy. The airline will supply towels and sunglasses for those who will spend the flight in the tanning section of the plane. At the destination you pick up your clothing on a conveyor belt before walking out in the sun, clothed or naked, according to the individual's whim.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Back to Teaching

When I retired from teaching at Swarthmore College in 2001, I meant retirement in no uncertain terms. Unlike some of my colleagues who retire in steps by teaching part-time for a few years and then one course now and then before quitting completely, I quit cold turkey. I broke my vow in 2005, however, at the request of a good friend, and taught a course on Michelangelo at the American Ballet Theatre in the Extension Program of the Long Island University. In the meantime, since 2001, I have been under pressure to contribute to Swarthmore's LifeLong Learning Program given in New York. I resisted. But last summer, having given up the house in Swarthmore and moved to my pied-a-terre in New York full-time, I capitulated and agreed to do a course on Michelangelo. So, I start teaching on 18 January, once a week, from 6:45 to 9:15 p.m. My primary concern: when am I going to have dinner?