Elevating myself atop my scratch post, ahem, I feel ennobled, Nelson-like.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
One day last week, walking home, I noticed the familiar corner grocery store one block from my place looked peculiar; the flowers on the side were gone and the fruit bins in front were all empty. I went to the swing door and peeked inside, and it was dark and completely vacant. The store vanished; and I felt a sudden sense of emptiness akin to that of bereavement.
I had no idea when the store had shut down but guessed it was within two or three days; I returned home from another direction and didn’t pass it. There was no sign announcing its liquidation as some store do. Discovering it suddenly, I thought the closure might have been a flight by night event. Or, it just went bankrupt. Now, it’s over a week and I still feel sad whenever I pass by it, day or night. This is grieving.
The sense of loss was not just that of convenience. It was surely convenient for picking up small items on my way home at late hours when other stores were already closed. I would pick up milk, eggs, cookies, oranges and bananas, and such, once in a while; but, as the proprietor was Korean, as many of these corner grocers are of late, I relied on their supply of tofu and scallions, ginger, Japanese crackers, buckwheat noodles, and sometimes kimchi. In five-years time, I became friendly with young men who work there at night and learned a few words of greeting in Bhutanese from one, like kuzoozangpo, kadinchey, and chiru delek, and from another some Nepalese phrases, namaskar, namaste, and dhanyabad. The familiarity gained in personal contact becomes a part of the everyday living, and that is why the store’s disappearance affects us so. Operating all night, the well-lit store was always reassuring when, on rare occasion, I was returning home after midnight.
Even during the day, passing by, when I see the store abandoned and deserted, I’m so very sad, grieving.
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Tuesday, May 6, 2014
The clothes we wear day-to-day, that is to say, habitually, can be called habits for this reason, as are the habits of nuns and monks and, for that matter, uniforms of all kinds; but we don’t customarily wear costumes; these we wear theatrically when we present ourselves at special events as when we perform on stage or in arena, parade in festivals, or else act a clown or go out “trick or treat.” But the clothes of an exotic culture, worn as costumes, are more habits than costumes for those in their own culture since they wear them habitually. Conversely, our everyday wear is a costume to the extent that, choosing what to wear and not to wear, we are conscious that what we wear carries in the eyes of others who see it a certain image and therefore a particular significance. Clothes make the man and the woman, and the world’s a stage where we are willy-nilly players donning costumes to fit their roles. A new dress always feels like a costume but grows less so as as we get accustomed to it repeatedly worn; when it gets out of fashion it again feels like a costume, and when it is threadbare from continuous wear we don’t wear it out on the street because it feels as out of place as a costume representing an impoverished, unless it is a pair of jeans torn by design and in fashion to be worn customarily. So, a costume, if worn habitually, even if trendy is only a custom wear, ready-made or custom-made.
Monday, May 5, 2014
In any language diction defines the speaker’s character because the speaker has a choice in the way of phrasing what she or he would like to say according to the notion of propriety or appropriateness in the context of the speech uttered, for example:
Shall we go?
Are we ready to go?
We’d better be going.
We are going.
OK, fellas, get going.
For each of these variants we can imagine the situation and to some extent the speaker’s character. In Japanese the speaker’s diction defines more precisely her or his gender, age and social position as well as the situation, using only lexical variants, that is, without changing the syntax. Consider, for example, this dialogue:
I’m hungry. Shall we go for lunch? Yeah, let’s. I’m starving.
In Japanese one can say it this way:
Hara ga hetta, hirumeshi kuini ikôka. Un, sô dana, pekopekoda.
Here, the speakers are both clearly men, and the subject (understood) is unmistakably “俺 ore,” though it is unstated, only implied, Subject pronouns are often omitted in Japanese precisely because the diction makes the pronominal reference clear enough.
Alternatively, the translation of the above sample sentence might be:
Onaka ga suita wa, ohiru tabeni ikimashôka. E’e, sône, onaka pekopeko.
Here, the interlocutors are women, with “atashi あたし” as the understood subject.
If the relationship between the two women is formal, a more polite form has to be adopted, and the fact of hunger is elided because the mention of hunger is a bit vulgar, as it might be in English as well:
Are you perhaps ready for lunch. Yes, thank you.
So, in Japanese:
Soro soro ochûshoku ni mairimashôka. Ha-a, dômo.
Here the speaker is a woman; the respondent is a man; a woman is likely to answer simply: E-e えぇ。
The greatest hurdle in learning Japanese is the grammatical rule governing the diction differentiated by gender, age, and class.
Japanese is a language which embodies a complex semiotics of hierarchy. So, the simple imperative, “Let’s go,” can take these variant forms without modifying the basic meaning:
Ikô. 行こう (standard)
Ikimashô. 行きましょう(polite, feminine)
Mairimashô. 参りましょう(very polite)
Ikube’e. 行くべえ (rustic)
It gets even more complicated with “Come here” because involves the relative social positions of the interlocutors involved:
Koko ni kina. ここに来な。
Kocchi e koi. こっちへ来い。
Kocchi ni oide. こっちにおいで。
Koko ni kitamae. ここに来たまえ。
Koko ni kitekure. ここに来てくれ。
Koko ni kinasai. ここに来なさい
Kocchi ni kiya’agare. こっちへ来やぁがれ。
Kochira ni irasshai. こちらにいらっしゃい。
Kochirani irasshai na. こちらにいらっしゃいな。
Kochira ni oide kudasai. こちらにおいで下さい。
Kochira ni oide kudasaimase. こちらにおいで下さいませ。
Kochira ni okoshi kudasai. こちらにおこしください。
Kochirani dôzo. こちらにどうぞ。(This way please)
Each of these expressions defines the character of the speaker, the social relationship of the speakers to each other, and the circumstance in which the statement is made, and this is only a partial list. The complexity comes naturally to the native speaker of this curious, marvelous language.
Listening to Japanese dialogues in a play or reading them, and imagining writing lines to give the characters, I became keenly aware of the remarkable pliability we have in Japanese in defining a character by diction.
Sunday, May 4, 2014
Mommy got me this stainless drinking fountain a month ago. Water bubbles up from the spout in the upper basin and streams down into the larger one. She calls it La Fontana di TreVif, whatever that means; but I like it and, so, I don't have to go to the washbasin and drink from the faucet which gives a bit of crick in my neck, pliable though it is, the neck I mean, not the faucet. The fountain is great to watch as it is to drink from. -- Vif reporting.
Saturday, May 3, 2014
Not often but now and then, and increasingly more frequently of late, I am offered a seat on trains and busses by men and women, young and not so young, as though I am weak and tottering. This is noteworthy in this age when chivalry is a relic and, in New York of all places, where people are, unless in crisis, noticeably self-absorbed and unthinking, if not, as more likely, downright self-centered. It was last fall when I first noticed that I would be offered a seat even when my skirt was mini in length whereas previously I was offered a seat occasionally only when my skirt was down to the ankles. I wonder if I look so obviously old and frail with sags and wrinkles and a hunch I am not quite aware of, or else the bony knees and legs below the hem and the gnarled fingers holding the pole. Or, perhaps, is my posture bowed or my balance visibly uncertain? My friends flatter me that I look so much younger than my age. But who knows; there are clearly some who see me old and frail. Oh, well, after all, I'm past 81 - not yet senile but aged enough. And yet, I'm hard put to see the changes myself. It is reassuring, nonetheless, to see, when walking up and down the subway stairs, that I still go scuttling and pass those not so young ambling gingerly, even precariously.
When a dance is overly mimetic it becomes a pantomime; when it goes too far in athleticism it becomes a gymnastic show. They are fine for what they are but I expect a dance to be what it is, that is, mimetic and/or athletic to a degree but significant beyond the surface and, above all, graceful — individually or collectively. Movement may be slow, as in the Japanese Noh, and it is still dance; but beyond a certain limit, absence of movement turns the dance into a tableau-vivant or an installation.