Wednesday, November 30, 2011

C'mon, Salmon, Trout Out!

ふん、あたしのことなんだと思ってるの?あの白らっちゃけたシロもの,なんですって,マス? えっ? ニジマス? あんなもの,食べられると思ってんの。あたしはシャケ一点張り、ワカってるでしょ。毎日スコシづつ混ぜて騙そうたってダメダメ。安っぽいインチキは止めって頂戴。 どっか本に書いてあったの? はい,無言の行。ダンジキもする覚悟よ。

Bah, what do you think I am? What’s that whitish flaky fish? Trout, you say? What? Rainbow trout? You think I’m going to eat the stuff? Salmon is my only dish -- you know that for sure. It’s no good mixing the two fishes bit by bit over a week. Stop the cheap trick. You read it in a book somewhere? I’m going to give you a silent treatment. I’m ready to go into fasting, too.

Well, I should have known better, of course, that cats are finicky and resists changes in diet, especially an old cat like 13-year old Qif. She has never had, aside from the supplementary dried food, anything other than Fancy Feast Savory Salmon. But one day I realized that salmon may be harmful because of the mercury content and got an idea of gradually changing her diet from salmon to white fish. Not only that, availing myself of the special sale, I bought at PetCo three cases of Trout Feast flaked. That’s seventy-two (72) 3oz cans. She gets a quarter-can twice a day. I reduced the usual portion of salmon just a little the first day and put next to it a tiny bit of trout, and increased just a pinch of trout each day. She left the trout in the dish stubbornly. So, I tried stirring the mixture well. She picked out the salmon as best as she could and ate up only ⅔ of her regular portion. After a week I gave up, and I was stuck with 69 cans of trout feast. I didn’t want to dump them. I considered donating them to her vet, finding a friend with a cat who might like trout, and selling them somehow. I out a notice on Craig’s List but a week went by without even a nibble. Finally, I took them back to PetCo with the receipt, though the purchase was three months ago, and the store willingly exchanged all of them for Savory Salmon. Back to salmon pure and unadulterated, Qif licked her dish clean. Dear me.

猫と云うのは,殊に13歳になるキフみたいな老猫は、違った食べ物は容易に受け付けない事、勿論解ってましたけどね。一生、ドライフゥドをのぞいては、鮭の缶詰だけでしたのに,ある日の事ふと,鮭に含まれている水銀が健康に害があるのではないかと気にかかり,白身のお魚に徐々に変えて行こうと云うプランを立て,丁度やっていた特売を幸いと,ニジマスの3オンスの缶を,なんと,3ケース(72缶)買い込んで来たのが,大間違い。一日二回の食事に少しずつ,最初は隣り合わせに与えたのですが,必ずニジマスは食べ残し。後に良くかき混ぜた所、出来るだけ鮭だけをつまみ食いして,白身は食べ残し。とうとう根負け。所が手元に残った69缶の始末に困惑,どこかにキフするか,ニジマスの好きな猫を飼っている知人を捜すか,売りに出すか。クレイグスリストに広告しても反応なくて当惑。漸く思いついて買ったお店に持って行きましたら,幸い鮭の缶と引き換えてくれました。 又元の混ぜ物なしの鮭だけにしたら、こは如何に,キフばあさん、すっかり食べて尽くし、お皿もきれいに舐めるという結果。やれやれ。

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Colonel Blimp

I went to see The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, the 1943 film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, restored by The Film Foundation under Martin Scoresese's leadership.  It is a remarkable film in form and substance as recognized by raving reviews but I found especially astounding the transformation in the performance of Roger Livesey (then, 37 years old) from young Clive Candy to the elderly Brigadier General.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Be Careful, Too Late

If you get into an accident and hurt yourself, like taking a fall, or dropping a vase and breaking it, or getting burned by a flying hot oil, someone -- usually someone close to you -- invariably blurts out the familiar tag line: You’d better be careful, or why can’t you be more careful. Ho, ho, ho, I know, I know. I wasn’t careful. If I had been, I wouldn’t have been hurt. It’s too late to tell me that. But I say the same words when someone else has an accident. What I might say, instead, is: Sorry you weren’t a little more careful. This is more compassionate than expressing impatience or irritation with the person who was hurt.

花瓶を落として壊すとか, 油がはねて火傷をするとか, すってんころりと転ぶとか, 何かおっちょこちょいをやらかして怪我をすると、必ず誰か,たいていは親しくしている人,が言う通り言葉は,気を付けないからとか、注意が足りないからとか。おほほっほ、解ってますよだ。注意してたら,怪我なんかしませんよ。言われても、もう手遅れ。でも,誰か他の人が怪我すると,あたしも同じ事言いますね。その代わりに、もう一寸注意すればよかったわね、と言い換えれば,怪我した当人に対して苛立ちや焦燥よりも、同情を表しますね。

Monday, November 21, 2011


面白いですね。「てめえ」は「手前」の変形ですが,手前とは目の前の事。そういう訳で自分の事も手前、話している相手も手前。「手前ども」と言えば謙遜、で「手前の渋っ面」といえば軽蔑。相手を見下げた時には,「てまえ」が「てめえ」になりますけど、それでも、 おめえもてめえ、あっしもてめえ。どっちがてめえだ、「文句はてめえがいってるんだ、てめえは黙ってひっこんでろ」だ。「お」を付けりゃ,茶道の御手前。「わい」も同じ様、自分をさしたり相手をさしたり。

No way whatsoever translating this into English, no sir.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hard Work, Not Always

Work is a matter of resistance, not simply of the amount of effort . Work cannot be quantified except in economic terms, such as the extent the input outweighs the output. Hard work is hard because it gives displeasure instead of pleasure. Hard work, in short, is drudgery. Work, when enjoyed, ceases to be work; it is then a creative effort. Artists, in all fields, know it. Labor of Love, we say.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sketches Are Only Sketches

Some drawings are done as finished products, others are sketches, that is to say, trial pieces made toward the creation of finished works and thus representing stages in the artistic creation. Or else they are exercises, like quickly executed life drawings done in the studio. Sketches are therefore tentative; as such, they are private works.

They are nevertheless exhibited publicly today in galleries and museums; and they are auctioned and sold and resold and collected as works of art. Like many critics and collectors -- presumably most of them -- I have a deep appreciation of drawings, sketchy or polished, especially those by artists who were or are great draughtsmen and -women.

But when I started to think about the appeal of artists’ sketches, I began to realize that this is a very curious phenomenon. We think, of course, that sketches are valuable. They reveal the artist’s process of thinking and assist us in gaining a better understanding of the works toward which they were made, however sketchy they may be, however slapdash, slipshod, shabby. Through the sketches the artist informs us of her/his initial idea and the ensuing tribulations -- uncertainty, indecisiveness, doubts and reversals -- before reaching the eventual solution achieved to her/his satisfaction. The value in this regard is biographical, and it is inherently different from the artistic value we find in the finished works of art. It has to do with our encounter with the artist, rather than the consummate works themselves seen apart from the person of the artist. A sketch drawings by an anonymous author whose finished works are unknown is no lead to the artist’s mind and is of interest only for the quality of the piece and must be appraised as such. The literary counterpart of the sketch is the draft or work in progress, which is exhibited or published for their biographical interest, not really for their literary merit. The rehearsal for a play and other performing arts may be opened to the public but it is never mistaken for a finished performance. It is only a rehearsal, a tryout to test the work, a step toward the completion. Drawings are treated like finished works of art.

Sketches are predominantly works on paper. But there are oil sketches and underdrawings, sculptors’ wax and terracotta models, known variously as bozzetti, modelli, and maquettes, and full-size drawings for murals, called cartoons. They exist in those cases where a high degree of deliberation is required in creating the finished work, and, therefore, a careful advance planning. There are, on the other hand, those works of art which require supreme craftsmanship and yet lack the trail of drawings leading to their completion. They may not have been made; and, if they were, they were discarded as valueless. Works of ceramics immediately come to mind but also of silverware, glassware, lacquerware, jewelry, tapestry, basketry, and other works that are generally classified as craft rather than art. Craftspersons are not artists, so goes the presumption, and whatever preparatory work that went into the making of the final work, carries no biographical interest. The finished products count, not the makers -- not as much. A half-baked bowl is not of much use, nor tattered tapestry.

We know of the conspicuous paucity of drawings surviving from the 15th century. It is not that Quattrocento artists didn’t draw; sketches were discarded as trash when the work was finished, unless they were deemed reusable as a model for apprentices or for later projects that required a similar design. The underdrawing for a fresco was obliterated under the finished work; the cartoon for it was thrown away. But a new aesthetic outlook developed early in the 16th century. Michelangelo’s cartoon for the Battle of Cascina, an unexecuted fresco project in the Palazzo Vecchio, was so revered and coveted by his pupils and followers that it was cut into pieces and distributed among them as a model and a treasure. Thus, through the sixteenth century, master artists’ drawings were saved and collected by younger artists as well as collectors more and more for the inherent value placed in them as products of great creative minds. Vasari, later in the century, spoke of the sketchy drawing as endowed with the spark of creativity made visible as never possible in the studiously finished work. Artists themselves nonetheless considered drawings are preparatory, even though they saw in those of the mastery traces of an inspired mind.

The 20th-century sensitivity valued spontaneity as an aesthetic merit of highest order. It represents the outpouring of the artist’s unadulterated creative energy free of deliberation. It bespeaks the artist’s innate genius. Eventually, any scribble from a great artist’s hand came to be considered of artistic value, not merely of value as a document of a creative process. The focus of our aesthetic interest has shifted totally from the pleasure given by a carefully deliberated and finished work to the glimpse into the mind of the artist as a unique individual. The process, therefore, became more interesting than the well-made product, more essential a feature of art. The works of some Abstract Expressionists fully demonstrate the aesthetics of the process passing as the product. A splashy smear of paint is seen as expressive, and by that account beautiful, but only if the person of the artist, her/his ego, holds something worthy of being expressed.

In the 21st century, we find indications that the tide is changing. We see more works by younger artists today for whom deliberation seems more challenging and satisfying than spontaneity, more essential a feature of art. The product, more than the process, is becoming the goal of their aspiration.

In the 17th century, Poussin argued that imagination is a natural property of any of us. We all can fantasize and create faries, phantoms, and chimeras; imagination is rampant. The artist’s special gift is the power to give fantasy a consummate form by composing them into a tightly integrated work, To many of us today his sketches show verve and vitality and are more appealing than his seemingly frozen compositions. For him sketches were only sketches. Indeed they are.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Autumn sky 秋空

Blue sky reflected
bright on the glass skyscraper
autumn in New York.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Gingko 銀杏

Gingko bright yellow
five days ago is now bare
ready for winter.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

De Kooning in Retrospect

There is a retrospective of Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) currently at MoMA. He was certainly a major painter of his generation together with Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Arshile Gorky, Franz Kline, and Hans Hofmann. But I consider his most creative years to have been no more than decade from 1945 to 1954. In those years, he produced some of the most impressive works: Pink Angels (1945; Weisman Foundation, LA); Judgment Day (1946; Metroppolitan Museum of Art), Excavation (1950; Art Institute of Chicago), and the Woman series, I through VI (1950-54). These, in particular, combining vigorous brushwork, bold palette, and awesome images, are energetic and heroic and overwhelm the viewer, whether she/he understands the iconography to be misogynous or expressive of female ferocity. At the time, the Women were considered regressive and lesser for being figurative rather than abstract. But in retrospect, as the retrospective allows us, the abstract works that followed them in the later 50s and into the 60s, struck me as weaker in impact. They spatter energy but playfully or else chaotically without the figurative element that provide a controlling armature; both the design and performance lack deliberation. Contradicting the experts in the field, I am tempted to say that after 1954 his oeuvre shows a steady decline; and, possibly exposing my ignorance, I am compelled to speculate that as his name grew in fame and stature he dashed out one canvas after another under the pressure of the galleries who could sell them to private collectors faster than he could paint them so long as the artist name was attached to them. Seeing de Kooning’s abstract paintings in number, we are made keenly aware how they lack strong individuality from one work to the next; they look much too similar and are disconcertingly unmemorable, as Rothko’s seemingly similar canvases are strongly individualized as are Agnes Martin’s in her oeuvre. The art market corrupted the artist as it did Basquiat more efficiently in the 80s. De Kooning after 1980 are, to me, sadly forgettable. It’s only the still pervasive cult of the artist’s name that honors his works after 1954 as equal to his best and the most powerful creations.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Long Stretch on the Marathon Day

Last Sunday I went to Brooklyn Museum of Art. It was an arduous trip because I live east of 1st Avenue, which was blocked north of 59th Street for the massive NY Marathon and had many detours to negotiate. Moreover, since it was Sunday, the subway was running sparsely on detours and irregular schedule. Anticipating a long trip, I allowed enough time, and though it took two full hours door to door (which normally takes 50 minutes at the most), I got to the museum exactly at 1:00, when I was meeting a friend coming from Chelsea. I suspected that he, too, had a long trip as the usual trains, #2 and #3, to Brooklyn were not running. So, seeing that he hadn’t arrived yet, I phoned his mobile and left a message that I am waiting. By 1:20 I started to get a little restless; then, I saw the clock in the lobby, which said 12:20. Only then did I realize that the Daylight Saving Time ended at 12:00 a.m. Sunday. I was an hour early. So, that’s where my extra hour went, not for a Sunday slumber. Naturally, I was relieved that it was not the Fall change of time to Standard Time, not the Spring change, or I would have kept a friend waiting an hour. Maybe I should have planned to run the marathon.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Farewell, oh, Bacchus

Following the massive gastric hemorrhage last March, which put me in the hospital for five days, I bid farewell to Bacchus who had me well in his protective embrace. My kind doctor advised me to refrain from wine.

I like wine better than beer or ale, or hard liquor. There was a time when I appreciated, in particular, martini and scotch. I was also habituated to aperitif and liqueur, like vermouth, cointreau, campari, and punt-e-mes, which I kept in stock, and sambuco and strega when I was out. I am not into cold beer in hot summer; at one point I learned to appreciate beer at room temperature the old-world Bohemian way that enhances its taste. But nothing beats them all like good dry red wine. I have always had social glass of wine through my adult life, that is, some 60-odd years. But it was in my first sojourn in Italy, 1960-61, that I acquired the habit of a daily glass of wine at the evening table -- a small glass. I was correct in having red with meat and white with fish for a while but progressively I liked red with any kind of cuisine. I never imbibed a lot; a bottle shared by two was the maximum. A glass a day, I firmly believed, was healthful.

I miss having a glass of wine at dinner, and I am melancholic about it. But I shed no tears parting with Bacchus. I was gradually broken into the new habit. When I started to live part-time in New York after retirement, I quit wine at dinner by circumstance as I frequented theater in the evening, and wine at dinner was too soporific. On the days of the week back home in Swarthmore, I kept up the good old habit. Since moving wholesale to New York, I go out theater-hopping almost every night, and I stopped having wine almost completely, that is to say, except on those evenings when I have no theater and go out to have dinner out with friends or to be an invited guest at a friend’s place.

The doctor’s advice was to refrain; she did not say I should abstain. So, I cheat. At a dinner out with a friend, we order the same wine and ask for an extra glass so that I allow myself a half glass and ask my companion to finish the other half. And, oh, it tastes so good -- like any forbidden fruit. As a good Asian, I glow fire-engine red very quickly, so even with a half glass I can appear cheerfully inebriated as though I had several glasses and thus congenially social at a party.

I haven’t really dismissed Bacchus; I am still waving at him in the distance.