Monday, July 31, 2017

My Numerology 19

I was born in 1933 and left Japan for the US in 1952; my life in Japan was 19 years; this was the start.  

In 1957 I got together with my love, Tokiko, who passed away in 1995; we shared our life for 38 years, 19 twice.  My teaching career also lasted 38 years; I took my first job in 1963 and retired in 2001. I assumed a male identity until 1971, when I regained my rightful womanhood; I was 38 then. 

If I lived until 2033, I will have had 38 years of single life; I will then be 100.  Cool.

08.01.17

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Green Tea Over Rice

The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice is the title of one film by Ozu Yasujiro, the translation of Ochazuke no Aji. Normally, at meal time, Japanese eat three bowls of rice with okazu, the term inaccurately translated as side dish. Everything other than white rice on the table is okazu, which may be fish or meat (but never both) and vegetables, all seasoned (predominantly with soy sauce). When you have eaten all the okazu and still have some rice left in the third bowl, you pour green tea and maybe have a pickle and finish the rice, slurping it with the rim of the bowl on the lips, though this is considered bad manners. This is ochazuke, literally .  It cleanses the palate as the dessert is designed to do in European dinners.  Sometimes, instead of tea, leftover soup might be poured on the rice. The lower social crust, constrained economically, is not generous with okazu as the upper crust, and this, combined with the slurping, explains the ochazuke as "gauche." Ochazuke is a matter at the familial table; tea is never poured over rice in any formal dinner or at the table with invited guests.  Rice bowl is held in one hand (left) and eaten with chopsticks in the other hand (right); if you are left-handed, you are corrected from the time a child starts using chopsticks.  We learn the word right and left as the chopstick hand and bowl hand.  Noodles are meant to be slurped; it is a fast food of old times, popularized by workers on the run, like firefighters, messengers, construction workers, etc.  So, it is viewed as ridiculous if noodles are not swallowed fast.  Itami Juzo's early film Tanpopo (just before A Taxing Woman has scenes that have to do with the right way of eating noodles.  In a book of essays, he, a gourmet and a great chef himself, talks how Japanese cook spaghetti like udon (far beyond al dente).  I wrote this in response to a friend’s query on the title of the Ozu film. 

06.26.17

Black Ballerina

In my next life I want to be born a black girl with a midnight black skin, smooth and flawless; and I want to be a ballerina, with long legs and feet of strong arch and perfect turnout. I am willing to do all the hard work to be good enough to receive training at the School of American Ballet.  Just an idle thought that flurried into my mind as I watched a young black woman walk near Lincoln Center, very likely an SAB student. 

06.24.17

Sunday, June 25, 2017

人生の苦楽

人生の苦楽とは、人が生活して行くのに好いこともあれば悪いこともあるという事です。好い事ばかりの一生というのはありません。又、悪い事ばかりの一生もありません。そう思う人はいます。それは当人が好み選んで、社会の悪い面ばかり気にして、好い面を見る智慧に欠けているひとで、そういう人は不幸な性格の持ち主で、性格の不幸を、人生の不幸と誤解している人です。人は様々ですから、裕福でも不幸な人もいるし、貧乏でも楽しく生きていく人もいます。苦労に苦痛を重ねて、はたから見て哀れだと思っても、当人は意外に苦にしていないという例も珍しくありません。

人生は、ハイキングみたいとも言えます。ハイキングの好きな人は、大勢人の通った道を歩いても面白いとは思いません。公園を散歩するのと変わりないからでしょう。森の中のあまり人の行かない所のほうが興味深いと思う理由は、ハイキングの魅力が冒険だからです。ですから、森の中とか、山道の方が、ハイキングの甲斐があるという訳です。そういう山道には、危険が伴うのは避けられません。うっかりすると、地面から盛り上がった根っこにつまずいて膝を剥くとか、垂れ下がった木の枝に額をごつんとやられるとか、突然驚いて飛び立った鳥の糞が頰に落ちたとか、虻(あぶ)にさされるし、あるいは蛇も出てくるかも知れません。崖から足を踏み外しそうになって、息が止まりそうになる事もあるかもしれません。こういう危険が恐ろしい人は、うちに引きこもっていてハイキングはしません。ハイキングが大好きな人は、だいたい冒険好きで、そういう人は、森も奥深くとか、山は険しいところとか、もっと極端なハイカーは、無人の砂漠を越すとか、熱帯地のあらゆる毒蛇の住む森林を探るとか、熊や狼の住む山の奥の奥に忍び込むとか、そういう事を選んでするものです。

世の中には、危険を避けて家からあまり遠くに出ない人もいますし、いろいろ冒険的な事を試してみたがる人もいます。ただ、うちに引っ込んでいても、危険はあります。熱いお鍋で手を火傷するとか、階段から滑って怪我をするとか。トンカチで釘を打つ積もりで指を打つとか、じっと座っていても、地震はあるし、雷は鳴るし、火事もオヤジも避けらないものです。つまり、すべて人生には危険がともなうのが運命です。ハイキングに長けた人は、危険をある程度予期していてうまく避ける知識を養っています。いろんな虫や、毒蛇やらに噛まれる事に備えて、薬を蓄えていくとか、熊が飛び出してきたらすぐ地面に横たわって死んだ振りをするとか、空を見て豪雨を予期するとか、巧みにいろいろなことを知っています。予期していない危険もあります、それはその場で、智慧を働かす心の用意をしています。

人生の危険は、避けようとしても避けられない以上、あるものは我慢して堪えるより他はないかも知れませんけど、多くの場合、それぞれその場で智慧を働かす心の用意があれば、忍びられますし、忍びられればそれだけ、人生の苦が耐えられるわけです。では、心の用意とはどういう事でしょう。

日本では、よく「暑さ寒さも彼岸まで」と言います。「あぁ、暑い暑い」あるいは 「寒い寒い」と文句を言っても、お彼岸になれば季節が変わってずっと楽になるから、それを予想していたら、暑さも寒さもそう苦労にならないという事です。香織おばは、その改作で「暑さ寒さも気持ちの次第」と言います。今日零度で震えていても、二三日前の零下八度の日の事を考えたら、楽なもんですと自分に言い聞かせるとそれほど寒くなくなります。暑さも同じ事、今日は暑いけど、まだまだ先にもっと暑くなる日がある事を予想したら、それほど暑く感じなくなるものです。日ごとの辛い経験も、もっと辛い事を思い出したり想像したら、辛さがある程度減少します。これが我慢という事かも知れません。体を縮めて、肉体的、あるいは感情的に、我慢するのではなくて、理性的にする我慢の事です。

不思議な事実は、人生の「苦」は必ずしも「悪」ではないという事です。人生は、今日あしたの事ではなくて、何十年も続くものです。その間に生活の状態は変わるものです。だんだん良くなるかもしれないし、悪化するかもしれません。一度良くなって、また悪くなって、そのあと良くなるという事もあり、天候のようなものです。今日は嵐でも、明日は晴れ、大雪が続いてもいずれは春になります。こう考えると、過去の苦が常に比較になります。現在の方がいい状態でしたら、以前の苦がそれほどみじめでなくなるし、今悪くても先に良くなる事も考えられます。苦の経験は、先の状態を凌ぎ易くするのです。

戦後の食糧難の生活をした人は、またそういう時代が来ても堪えて行けると言う自信があります。それだけでなく、過去と較べて食べものに不自由のない現在は、毎日贅沢しているという感じで、幸福感を経験します。戦争中の空襲の毎日を経験した人は、現代の社会が乱れたと言っても、何より平和である事が幸福な事だと思うものです。ですから、逆説ですけど、苦労した人は、苦労した事のない人よりも幸福感を余計に味わえるのです。こう極端でなくても、例えば、子供の頃虚弱で、病気ばかりして、あと大人になって健康になると、病気をあまりしないという事だけでも、人以上に幸福感が与えられます。これは香織おばの事です。

言い換えれば。今苦労に苦しんで不幸だと思っていても、十年、二十年先に、意外にそれが原因で幸福感が得らるのです。今日零下十二度で苦しんでも、来週は零度に上がって、「あぁ、楽だ」というわけです。今、身の回りに嫌な事ばかりで、惨めで情けないと思うのは自然の事ですけど、先になってそういう経験が作り上げてくれる心の用意の事を考えたら、幾らか忍びやすくなるのです。これが、あるいは仏教の「悟り」というものかもしれません。悟りは、何年もの様々な経験を積んで得られるもので、若い人には非常に難しい事も、また実際です。でも、悟りという事を考えてみるだけでも、いい事です。

学校というのは、子供の世界ですけど、大人の社会の縮図ようなものです。学校の経験は楽な事ではありません。人生と同じように、いい事もあれば嫌な事もあります。嫌な事ばかりに見えても、必ずいい事もあります。悪い子供もいれば良い子供もいます。乱暴者もいれば、優しい子もいます。いじめられると、いじめっ子ばかり目につきますけど、十人が十人悪意のあるいじめっ子ではありません。先生の中でも優秀な先生もいれば無責任な先生もいます。中には、先生と自称していても、信用できない悪い人間もいます。毎日の学校生活も楽な事ではありませんね。大人の世界に入っても同じですから、そのための心の準備と見てもいいでしょう。でも、子供の年齢では、悟りを開くのは無理な事かもしれません。では、どうしたらいいのでしょう。

また、森の中のハイキングに例えて考えてみましょう。危険があるから、ハイキングはしないという人に例えれば、嫌な事があるから学校はもう行かないという事も考えられますけど、そうしたら人生は恐ろしい事ばかりだからもう生きるのは止めるというのと同じで、これは逃避術で理性的な解決ではありません。森にハイキングに行くかぎり、適当に予備知識、準備、注意、判断力を働かせば、心配する事はないでしょう。先ず、ハイキングに行く場所について知識を得る事、薬、水、食べ物、その他必要なものをちゃんとリックサックに詰める事、歩きながら始終目を光らして周りの様子を観察する事。つまずかないようにするには、足元に注意。虫が飛んできたら、やたら手は振らない事。狼が出てきたら静止して、逃げたり向かったりしない事。予期しない危険には、鋭い判断力を働かせる事。道が分かれていたら、どちらの方が安全だろうかと感を働かせる事。

学校のジャングルも、判断力を働かせるのが先ず第一。いじめっ子は森の狼です。悪辣なのもいますけど、大半は、前に書きましたけどやたらと吠える小犬と同じで、もともと臆病者です。できるだけ避ければ避ける事、でなければ無視するか、ちゃらまかすか、なるべくいい生徒の仲間入りをして乱暴が行き過ぎないように注意する事。反抗しても、泣いても、逃げても、そうすればもっといじめてくるもの。予備知識として大事なのは、いじめっ子の各種を見極める事。悪い子供の中でも、本当にタチの悪い大将格と、真似事をしている子といます。真似事の追従者(へっつらい)は軽くあしらい、大将には特別の注意を払う事。悪口は、どんなに悪い事を言っても、危害はありませんから、馬ならず、猫に念仏で、知らん顔。大将が危害を与えていたら、証拠品、例えば落書きされたカバン、引っ掻かれた腕、これを信用できる先生に見せて訴える事。こういう見分ける判断力を養う事が大事です。人のいない暗い道を避けるのと同じで、一人離れている事は危険。いつも大勢いるところに交わる事。少し大きなかばってくれるような子とお友達になる事。先生も、いい先生と、そうでない先生と区別する判断を養う事。先生に叱られても、理性的に考えて、それが正しい批判でしたら、真剣に受け入れ、そうでなければ無視する事。褒められた場合も同じで、通り一遍のおせいじを言う先生は信用できません。人が何を言っても、自分の理性で判断して正しいと思った事には、自信を持つ事。まあ、いろいろありますけど、全てもちろん「言うは易し」ですね。でも、判断力を働かしているうちに、少しづつ心の用意というものが養われてくるのです。


小学校を卒業して、その先、ますます毎日の世界が複雑になり、苦しい事も悲しい事も、増えるばかりで減少する見込みはありません。その反面、楽しい事も深みを増して、大人になる希望もでてきます。それだけに、人生の苦楽を、よく理解する必要がありますね。でも、ルチアには優れた知能が備わっていますから、勇ましく対抗していけます。ルチア、しっかり。香織おば、応援しています。    

ルチアに  香織おば  01.24.16
                                                                                          

My Pet Animals  - 好きな動物

Image result for giraffe































My favorite pet animals, aside from the cat, are the giraffe, the owl, and the turtle. Having written this, I suddenly realized that I have always been interested in stretching my neck to broaden my field of vision, that I developed a habit of staying up late with my eyes wide open after dark, and, I plod to learn and, protective of my own well-being, aspire to live a long life. So, clearly, none of this is accidental.

猫の他に、あたしの一番好きな動物は、麒麟とふくろうと亀。こう書いて気がついたのは、首を伸ばして視野を広げるのが常に好きで、暗くなると目がぱっちりで夜更かしが癖になり、そして勉強はこつこつとやるタイプで、又、自分の健康と安全を守り、長生きがしたいという欲望と、すべて偶然ではないですね。

06.23.17

Slant Slide Skew

There are sidewalks in New York City that slant toward the curb, no doubt for better drainage, because of which we pedestrians, in order to avoid sliding, are forced to walk skewed.  I detest them and if I know the street I avoid it.  

06.22.17

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

USA

Let us not forget that this is the nation of immigrants since the dawn of its history, and, furthermore, they came as refugees escaping oppression and seeking, in particular, religious freedom; and henceforward the nation grew with successive waves of immigrants.  Social heterogeneity generated by immigrants has been the nation’s strength which continues to enrich the life and culture of its citizens. 

06.01.17

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Opera is Art of the Voice

Opera is vocal music.  Singing creates a drama in the opera; the drama it creates should come from singing.  All too often, in modern productions, opera has been made into a sight-and-sound spectacle with singing submerged in the visual fanfare; the set, costume, and lighting, which should support the singing, too often take precedence rather than a subsidiary place.  Little wonder I experience a special excitement when I attend an opera in concert presentation; with no stage set and minimal costume and physical action, it is so much more fulfilling than a fully-staged performance, precisely because the voice with instrumental accompaniment carries the drama.  A good libretto rendered into an expressive musical composition and sung beautifully is what we get.  In some operatic works, notably in Wagner’s music dramas, symphonic music takes precedence to which voices are one additional set of instrument.  All these points were powerfully demonstrated in the recent performance I attended at Carnegie of Handel’s Ariodante featuring the English Concert and Joyce DiDonato in the title role.  It was opera par excellence superbly realized. 

05.05.17

Pink, pink, pink

My obsessive taste for pink originates, I recently reflected, in the fact that I missed out on pinky girlhood, having grown up in wartime Tokyo when the camouflage khaki washed the world.  So, even now at my advanced age, when I see a little girl dressed in pink I get oh so envious.  But, too, I remember that the cherry blossom that colors every spring in Japan is the glorious pink. See also Pink Me on my Webbsie http://www.swarthmore.edu/Humanities/tkitao1

あたしの執拗なピンク好み、最近思い当たったことですけど、元を正せば、カモフラージュのカーキ色に塗りつぶされた、戦時中の東京で育ったもので、桃色の少女時代というものを逃してしまった事です。それで、老年の今になってもまだ、ピンクを着た少女を見ると羨望を感じるのです。加えて、省みること、毎年日本の春を彩る満開の桜は見事なピンクですものね。

05.09.17

苦論

反論なしの放論に
適した反論何でしょう。

理論に欠けた半理論
雑論混論半結論
傍論妄論暴論も
全ては毛論
いずれは口論
無論全論非論かな
苦論苦論真っ苦論。

それでなければ轟論か。

05.20.17


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Maxi hazards - マキシの難

Ankle-length skirts are nice - smart and elegant; but I am disinclined to wear them unless absolutely wanted.  The reasons are three.  First, the hem tends to sweep the ground and gets drenched when there is a puddle.  Second, if I am not careful, I trip on the hem going up and down the stairs and getting on and off a bus, though it makes a graceful figure to pull it up with fingertips to lift the hem.  Then, third, I cannot stand to get the skirt fold down on the stall floor when I sit down in a public toilet. Another reason why I wear miniskirts habitually, aside from those I had already written elsewhere — My Mini Habit.

足首まである長いスカートは綺麗、スマートだし優雅、でもあたしは、どうしてもという時以外、あまり履く気がしないの。理由は三つ。先ず第一に、裾が地面を掃き払うし、水溜りがあればびしょびしょになる事。第二に、褄を取ればいい姿ですけど、バスの乗り降り、階段のの上り下りの際にうっかりすると裾につまずく事。そして第三、公衆のトイレに入って座る時、汚い床にスカートを重ね落とすのがとても嫌な事。あたしのミニスカ常用の、既に My Mini Habit で述べた理由に加えて、もう一つの理由。


Not Knowing - 無知

Not to be in the know is a loss, whether just not to be informed or not to be knowledgeable, a loss and never a gain, so  I am convinced.  It is true that there are some things in this world that are hardly worth knowing and it would be squandering our precious time, when life’s time, if not necessarily short, is nonetheless fixed.  Still, we can ration our time accordingly, and discovering something was trivial or even worthless to know is itself worth knowing than not knowing so as not to spend more time on it.  So, anything is always good to know, I claim, than not to know, as conversely knowing is always a gain and knowing more only makes life more fulfilling and happier. 

知らないうことは損、それが情報を得ていない、又は博識がない、とのいずれの解釈にしろ、損失ばかりで利益はない、というのがあたしの確信するところです。勿論この世には知る価値の殆どないものはありますし、人生に与えられた時間が、短くはなくても決められたものである以上、貴重な時間を浪費するには及びません。でも、時間は適当に割り当てて、あるものが知るに足りないなり当たらないことを知る事自身、知っていれば、更に時間を費やす事なく、やはり知らずにいるより知っている方がそれだけ価値があります。ですから、なんでも知らざるより知るが良しと主張するわけです。そして、逆に、知るは常に益、すべて知れば知るほど満足感が得られ、人生もより幸福になるでしょう。

Monday, April 3, 2017

Defeating Trump

Open opposition is futile in dealing with Trump’s administration, and so, too, any rational criticism.  Day in and day out since his inauguration, we have been hearing pundits argue on every detail of his continuous executive orders.  But their talks are pointless — academic and ineffectual — because his mind is insistently contradictory and his actions lack consistency.  Any direct criticism does little to convince his hardcore voters of the man’s demagoguery; it only antagonizes them — blue collar workers, youthful voters, wealthy capitalists, and all,\ against the critics and the saner defenders of democracy.  By the same token, open demonstrations achieve little; he does not take them seriously.  The only workable path to bring him down is to mobilize the wishy washy Republicans to hold back their endorsements of the current administration.  Toward this end, the press needs to pay more attention to the plight of Trump’s supporters and report it with understanding, instead of shining light on him as it did so excessively through his campaign and administration so far. Optimistically, weakening of Trump’s base is slowly happening.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

René DeCat

You think you know what I know and don’t know, but you don’t know that I know all the things you assume I don’t know but I do know. I also know a lot that you don’t know though you never suspect I do know.  Remember, Mom, I’m a cat; I’m Vif.  Cogito ergo sum, declared René DeCat, or was that René DeCaht? 




Friday, March 3, 2017

Oscar Oh Scar

It's five days now since the Oscar 2017, and I happened to learn about the mishap climax at the Oscar ceremony this year, where a wrong film was announced as the best picture and watched a clip of the event.  Well, that must have been some drama for the TV viewers of the ceremony.  The Oscar has been a farce all these many years; but it has become a McCoy SLAP-STICK now. I have not seen either La La Land or Moonlight.  But what an irony that the latter not only treats an African American life but features an all-black cast (so I just leaned, too) and won the award, ceremoniously sidestepped, following the years of Hollywood’s ethnic bias in nominations. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Propagandist

A political leader, inevitably a propagandist, is often a blatant fake news broadcaster. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Loss of Reason

When irrationality rules, violence prevails, and power is absolute. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Thoughts on Dance

I have been going to dance performances, both ballet and modern dance, and also everything else, quite regularly and frequently now over 15 years, and with still a great deal I am trying to understand, I have some thoughts I wanted to write down.  

Dance is an art form which uses the human body in sequences of postures and movements.  

To the extent that the bodily movements are almost inevitably gestural, it is conversely nearly impossible to strip a dance movement of mimetic expressions.  An arm raised may beckon, yearn, spurn, menace, explore, or hope, as the case may be; the expression is varied and made more specific in combination with the turn of the shoulders, neck, elbow, wrist, hand, and fingers, not to speak of the legs, the torso, and the rest of the body.  Every part of the body, singly or in combination, expresses a purposeful action by default, allowing the dancer infinite possibilities of expression.  Conversely, then, to choreograph a dance that is non-representational is nary impossible.  

Still there are dance forms that can be seen as movements for the sake of movement.  Tap and Irish step dance come to mind; but as with many forms of folk dancing, they do express joy of movement contagiously.  So, when a child spontaneously starts to jump up and down and twirl round and round, it is expressive of joy.  A temper tantrum is perhaps a form of dance, if lacking in rhythmic control. 

George Balanchine, who rejected the description of his work as abstract, rightly pointed out that if you put a ballerina with a male partner on stage, you have a story.  His more abstract dances are best described as plotless, in contrast to the classical story ballet; but they are still figurative.  The works of Jerome Robbins, Martha Graham, and Mark Morris, are all by and large overtly mimetic. 

The works of Merce Cunningham, as with the music of John Cage, with whom he closely collaborated, is perhaps noteworthy for their abstraction, dance as dance, in some of the works he choreographed.  He invented postures that made it difficult to be read as gestural.  John Jaspers in an conversation spoke of the “value of embodied knowledge” last fall at BAM; in my mind I paraphrased the statement as “the celebration of non-verbal communication,” that is to say, making the body speak in place of words, of events, memory, and knowledge.  Dance, in short, uses the body as an expressive vehicle of emotion and meaning, without words but still inevitably with mimetic imagery.  Many choreographers in modern dance seem intent on achieving “pure” dance by abstracting the movements.  Totally purged of imagery, bodily movements become gymnastic; there is much to be admired in the dynamism per se, such as speed, strength, energy and endurance, as well as the postural complexity and the geometry of the ensemble dancing.  It may be left to the audience to read into the abstract movements whatever expression it chooses.  But, of course, there is always music that defines the meaning intended. 

Analogy exists in abstract expressionism, as of Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Pierre Soulages, and Helen Frankenthaler, in whose works expression consists of shapes, colors, and, above all, gestures as traces.  They are non-figurative but mimetic, albeit minimally.  The works of Agnes Martin strike me as totally non-mimetic and yet expressive. The artist explained herself:  
When I think of art I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery 
of life. It is not in the eye it is in the mind. In our minds there 
is awareness of perfection.
The ideal expressed in this statement and in her magnificent paintings finds its counterpart in the best of Balanchine’s more abstract dances.  The movements may not be entirely free of mimetic suggestions but don’t insist on them; they may be abstract but not devoid of emotion.  But, above all, the dancers’ efforts are persistently directed toward the expression of beauty embodied in the lines as stipulated by the Classic Ballet. What Balanchine achieves at his best is poetry.

Cunningham, pushing further into the realm of abstraction, similarly achieves poetry by directing the dancers’ movements away from sheer athleticism toward expression of a certain difficult-to-define yet unmistakable ideal beyond physicality, perhaps even more like Agnes Martin.

With my thoughts on dance I am explaining to myself why, for me, Cunningham and Balanchine stand at the acme of achievement in dance.

Protest

Protest is ineffectual unless that to which it is directed manifests a principle. Without resistance, it is like a punch on a curtain instead of a wall.  A government decree that lacks consistency is, alas, immune to protest.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Trump is Infallible

President Trump will do no wrong. He will not fail because he cannot fail.  For anything whatsoever he did not get his way doing he has all the denizens whom he can call accountable: “incompetent” underlings, “irresponsible” opponents, and “dishonest” news reporters. He can not err. Then, his supporters, already mesmerized by his words, will believe with him that all the growing problems came from their opponents. He is infallible; and they are undefeatable. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Adverbially

I am generous with adverbs both in writing and speaking. If I write an adjective I am hard put to resist adding an adverb, or even two, to modify it, as when I write how this insistently habitual idiosyncrasy gives my writing its readily recognizable style. . . see?  Not just heavy but massively heavy, not just sad but devastatingly sad, not just attractive but wildly attractive, and so forth.

Green salad

Blackbird is not black; it’s brown.  Blackberry is red when it is green.  So, my green salad is not green.  My standard salad has greenleaf lettuce, cucumber slices, carrots julienned, mushrooms sliced, and black olives (if I have them), and some bright cherry tomatoes. The palette of colors pleases the eye, and it also whets the palate. A boiled egg? Methinks too many colors spoil the palette. 


Tattoo toodle-oo - いれずのいれずみ

Some fifteen or sixteen years ago, I wanted to get a tattoo. Really badly, in fact. 

A few years before retiring from teaching, in late 1990s, I began to see students with tattoos, which were already fashionable among young women around that time.  I was envious and, all of a sudden, I had to have one myself.  

Until then, tattoo was something very alien to me.  In old Japan, as in some other cultures, tattoo was a punitive mark applied to criminals.  They were also professionally adopted by workmen in certain trades, particularly those who take risks— firemen, for example, who climb tall ladders and defied burning roofs, carpenters, who walk on a slender beams high up on the wooden scaffold, and fishermen — and members of the yakuza, the organized gang.  For them, tattoo expressed bravura. They were also popular among the women of the demimonde.  Their tattoos, which often covered a large area, even the entire body below the neck as well as arms and thighs, are elaborate in design.  I saw Maoris in New Zealand wearing facial tattoos, also an expression of defiance.  The modern fashion in the West,  associated with hippies, expressed an antisocial attitude.  So, the tattoo appealed to the rebel in me, the dare like the bungee jumping, the trapeze, piloting a small plane, skydiving, the striptease, the head shave, and the extremely dark skin from tanning in the sun, all of which I found very tempting to try.  But with tattoo I was also drawn to its permanence, that it is basically indelible and irreversible.  I also rationalized that branding the body permanently for personal identification of my dead body was a neat idea. 

One day, driving near the college, I glimpsed a tattoo shop and stopped to check out; I looked at the design book and checked out the prices, and walked out saying I’d be back.  I had no definite ideas as yet what kind of design I wanted and which part of the body I wanted have it.  A few years passed before I decided that it is pointless to have a tattoo in a concealed part of the body, like the abdomen, the buttock, or the inner thigh, which will be seen only by an intimate — a lover, a spouse, or a bedmate; on the other hand, I didn’t want it blatantly displayed like the back of the neck as some women do or lower on the arm, most common among men.  I decided I wanted my tattoo high up on the arm near the round of the shoulder or a little toward the back, which will come in view when I go sleeveless in summer.  That was also the area where I still had enough flesh at the time to resist the pain I expected the process would give.  As for the design, I had in mind a small flower — a pink, a violet, or a primrose — something discreet. As soon as I started living in New York, in 2001, I investigated the tattoo parlors and kept in my wallet a small list of them.  My resolution was firm, my determination unshakable; and yet I was slow to action, and years went by.  

Last year I was still toying with the idea and chose a Sanskrit script for the rooster, my Asian zodiac sign; I liked it as a more personal design to mark my body.  I found it on the internet, reduced it to an appropriately modest size, and printed it out. But since then, my ardor for a tattoo suddenly waned.  For one my shoulders, I suddenly realized, became bony in these ten years leaving little padding on them to take a tattoo without excessive pain.  I also realized that the idea of carrying a mark on the body to identify it at the time of death lost its significance when I remembered that I will have myself cremated and the precious tattoo, after all, will vanish into thin air.  

I really wanted to have a tattoo, passionately; but I never got to get one, except in wishful thinking.  Tattoo toodle-oo.


十五、六年程前の事,あたし刺青(いれずみ)が矢鱈したくなりましてね、断然する積りでした。

その頃既に若い女性のなかで刺青が流行で、1990年後期、大学教職の引退前の事,学生で刺青をしているのを見かけるようになり、たまらなく羨ましくなって、あたし自身何が何でも彫り物をする決心をしました。

それまでは、刺青とは無縁でした。ほかの古い文化にあるのと同じように、日本でも彫り物と云えば、懲罰として囚人に施されものです。それ以外には、職人連中、殊に危険をおかす職業に関わる人達、いわゆる鳶職人 – 高い梯子に上って鳶で屋根をこわす江戸時代の火消し、木材の足場の横木を歩く大工、それに漁師など – それから「やくざ」の一同。この人達に取っては、刺青は度胸とか威勢とかを表したものだったのでしょう。その他には、売春に関係した人達が刺青をしたものです。職人の刺青は屢々背中いっぱい、或は腕から腿まで満たした豪奢なものです。ニュージーランドのマオリ族は顔に刺青をしますけど、これも挑戦を意味したものです。近代のアメリカ、欧州の流行は、ヒッピーの始めたもので、やはり社会に対する反抗の表現でした。そう云う訳で、あたしにとっての刺青の魅力は天性の反逆心だろうと思います。つまり、バンジージャンプ、サーカスの空中ブランコ、スカイダイビング、一人乗りの飛行操縦、ストリッパー、くりくり坊主、日焼けして真っ黒になった肌、こう云った長年試してみたいと思っていたものに通じます。でも刺青にあるもう一つの興味は、大体取り消せない、戻せられないと云う永久性。加えて、体の一分に永久なマークを付けていれば死体となって発見されたときの身元確認に便利なのも好いアイデアかと思いました。

ある日の事、大学の付近を運転し乍ら、刺青の店を垣間みて、車を止めて冷やかしに寄ってみました。デザインを色々見て、値段をきいて、また後程と出て来ました。どんな絵柄が欲しいか、体のどの部分にしたら好いか、まだ考えが決まっていませんでした。そのうち数年経ってやっと決めたのは、お腹、お尻、腿の内側のように、愛人、配偶者を除いては、人目にさらされる事のない隠れた場所に刺青をしても無意味だと云う事です。その反面、女性に屢々見かける、首の後ろの方とか、男性に見られる前腕とか、見せびらかすようなのも、好ましくないと思いました。で、結論は、夏、袖無しの時にだけ見える二の腕の上の方肩近く、彫るときの痛みを予想して、肉付きの有る所が理想だと云う事になりました。模様は、なでしこ、すみれの花、或はさくら草といった小柄なものが好いと思いました。2001年、ニューヨークに住むようになって早速、山ほどある内の良さそうな刺青の店を調べて、リストを作りお財布に収めました。決意は断固、決着は揺るぐ事なく、しかれども、実行は先延ばし、そのうち何年も経ってしまいました

去年の事、いまだ忘れる事なく、あたしの鶏年を表した梵字をインターネットで見つけて、体にちょっとした個人性を与えられるのが気に入り、それを適当に収縮して,印刷してみて好いなと思いました。所がその後,残念ながら、刺青の熱がすっかり冷めてしまいました。ひとつには、ここ数年の間に、肩が骨張って来て、彫るときの痛みに耐えられる程の丸みがなくなった事に気がついたのです。それとともに、死体は火葬にする事に決めたもので、身体確証の目印にする刺青は速やかに煙の消えてしまうのでは、無駄なこという結論に至ったのです。

熱望した刺青ですが、今や得る事なく、願望するのみです。いれずのいれずみです。

Being an Outsider

Party bird I am not.  I enjoy being among a group of friends; but in a social gathering of strangers getting acquainted for the first time and engaging in small talks with people you are most unlikely to meet again, I always get an urge to flee. 

In one respect, I realize, this is a curious thing.  Seeing that I don’t mind standing out in my eccentricity, I should feel comfortable being a focus of attention no less than anyone at a party to an extent is.  Reflecting on the matter, however, I realize that I was always shy as a child and, even after I learned to act sociable, I am still by nature averse to mingling.  On further reflection, I also realize that the two sides of my personality are, in fact, in perfect unison; both the innate shyness and the desire to be conspicuous arise from my penchant to stand apart and remain an outsider.  I’m no loner, however.  While a party, presumptively of people of shared interests, estranges me, I am at home in one-on-one associations. 

The International House Berkeley is a venerable institution.  While attending the UC Berkeley I always felt ill at ease there, seeing that it was where students from diverse cultures abroad, categorized as “foreign students”; they were corralled together into one place as though they formed a natural group although what they shared in common was that they were all outsiders.  For me, being a member of a group of outsiders denied being outside as an individual.  My inclination was to be a foreigner independently, not among foreigners — in short, to be seen as an individual, not typecast.  

This explains my firm belief that until we learn to identify one another as individuals rather than as types, whatever the category, race, religion, even gender; until we stop seeing each other as either black or white and recognize that we are all between black and white, racism will not cease to exist.   

Seeing eye - 見る目

もの見る目は見たいものを見る。
見たものを描写する言葉とおなじように、見る目も選択校閲するもの。

Seeing eye sees what it wants to see. 
No less than words describing what the eye sees, the eye itself also selects and edits.

Pictures titled Untitled

“Untitled” as the title of a painting irks me so.  What?  “Untitled, is it?  But isn’t this a title?”  This is a contradiction akin to the Cretan Liar paradox.  We find on a page of certain official documents a warning, announcing prominently: “This page was intentionally left blank.” Oh, sure, except for this notice which makes the page no longer blank. 

Worse than “Untitled” is the title “Untitled” followed by a phrase in parentheses, such as “Untitled (Mother’s Garden in May)” or “Untitled (Flight/Fright).”  This is a double contradiction, saying that the painting is untitled but not really.  The painter is muttering to herself or himself: “Well, yeah, I don’t know, like, I don’t have a title but it’s kinda like something in my mind, you know, I’m not quite sure what, yeah, but heck here it is, um, make of it what you will.” 

As a title “Untitled” could mean “still untitled,” that is, not yet titled.  In that case. “Work in Progress” is more accurate as in a portion of a novel sent in to a journal for publication.  No publisher, however, will accept a manuscript titled “Untitled,” nor a play so titled will ever be put on stage. Imagine a marquee “New York Premiere Albee’s latest play ‘Untitled’”. Musical compositions without a narrative theme came to be identified by the instrument/s and key signature: Violin Concerto in A-minor, String Quartet No. 4 in G-major., etc. 

Historical paintings, that is, narrative paintings -- religious, mythological, or historical -- as those in the Renaissance, did not require titles since the subject depicted was obvious to the viewer: St. Catherine,  St. Jerome in his Study,  Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Danae, Fall of Phaeton, Diana and Actaeon, etc.  In the 17th century in Holland, when marketing of art came into being, titling became useful, especially with the proliferation of non-narrative subjects -- portrait, landscape, still life, and genre (scenes from everyday life).  Thus, we find identifications like “River Landscape with a Ferry,” “A Gypsy Girl,” “Still Life with Eels,” “Ontbijt (Breakfast),” etc. Titling became a necessity in preparing inventories after the death of the artist.  Subjects outside the established genres were unwieldy.  Watteau’s reception entry he submitted in 1717 for admission to the Academy was called  “La fête galante” when exhibited, as it didn’t fit any existing subject category; it was neither history nor mythology, nor genre.  The exact subject is still debated: Embarkation for Cythera or Departure from Cythera.  With the rising practice of artists inventing a new subject for each painting, together with the new tradition of public exhibition of art, titling paintings became a necessity and a norm.   

The motivation for titling a painting “Untitled” is understandable and justifiable. Titling a painting implies that it has a subject -- literary, poetic, or thematic. It describes the work summarily, or, at least, provides a key to its meaning.  The idea of titling a work “Untitled” is to eliminate narrative connotations and force the viewer to look at the work and read its theme and meaning in the painting itself.  Pursuing abstraction, Kandinsky resorted to musical analogy in his titles: “Composition No. 5,” like the opus number in music. Some later non-figurative painters, just gave numbers, like, “Number 15” (Rothko), colors, like “Russet (Morris Louis), ” or the source of abstraction, like “Cathedral” (Hofmann), though others continued to give literary titles, like “Lucifer” (Pollock) and “Empress of India” (Stella).  If the painter feels strongly that the work should not be titled, she or he should call the work “Painting” rather than “Untitled.”

The one time I was made keenly aware of the perfect rightness of the title “Untitled” was at the exhibition of the works of Agnes Martin’s paintings, which she consistently and most deliberately titled “Untitled.”  From one painting to the next, identical in size and subtle in difference, at a glance they look alike; it is only on intense inspection the strong presence of each, which gives each work its unmistakably identity, impresses the viewer and makes it unforgettable.  Each painting identifies its visual reality that no lengthy description, not to speak of a title of any kind, can ever communicate profitably; it is revealed only in concentrated and prolonged and seeing.  Not all non-figurative paintings share this concrete optical quality.

Then, more recently, at the exhibition of Cindy Sherman’s photographs, I was equally impressed by her “Untitled” titling of her series “Untitled Film Stills.”  Her self-portraits as fictional but plausible film characters might be identified as types, like “tired housewife.” “young hitchhiker.” “sex kitten,” or whatever, but any title with a literary or cinematic reference only detracts from the specific identify of each feigned character, its immediacy (even though distanced as a screen image, simulation as it may be).  This observations holds, too, for Sherman’s later photographs of “society women, “centerfolds,” and “historical characters.”  Moreover, any specific title is not only redundant but falsifying since the reality of her photographed images is double-layered: one of her self-representation in different guises and the other of the character she is donning.  Her photographs simultaneously draws our attention to the persona as a person and the persona as a mask  In later works, in fact, she makes her prosthetic applications deliberately visible to distinguish the two layers of representation.  Strictly figurative, unlike Agnes Martin’s paintings, Sherman’s photographs are strong by virtue of their unmitigated specificity. 

In these examples, the title “Untitled” means “No other title was adequate” and not  “No title was conceived,” that is to say, concrete rather than abstract.

Too often, I still contend, paintings of vague or blurred identity are lazily left “Untitled”, and they vex me. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Study on Effort

Study on Effort performed at the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn by Bobbi Jene Smith, a dancer out of The Batsheba, and violinist Keir GoGwilt, does not actively try to entertain.  As the ingenious title insists, it tries to involve the audience to experience immersively the reality of the hard work that making any art is, in this case dance and music.  Failing to understand this premise, the audience may be misled to read the dancer’s nudity as a titillation.  

The opening sequence immediately realizes the theme of effort as the nude dancer makes slow, tortured movements, accompanied by the drone of James Tenney on the violin as its player makes an equally slow ambulation around the periphery of the low stage surrounded by the audience on three sides.  The spectator/listener is invited to follow the work with as much effort as the nude body which lays bare all the strained muscles and the violin which tireless repeats barely changing phrases over and over.  

This overture is followed by four sections which are variations on the theme, four contrasting exercises, some frantically fast and energized, others slow again as in the act of hauling sandbags.  The musical selections marking the sections are distinctly contrasted; they include an Improvisation by GoGwilt himself and Sarabande from  J. S. Bach’s Partita No.1. The dance and the music mesh effectively by mutually reinforcing the theme, now in counterpoint and now in unison. Smith’s effort receives magnification from the violin, and the music, which by itself would be absorbed by the listener more passively, becomes muscular in combination with the dance’s physicality and forces itself on as hard work; and the audience in its effort becomes active participants in the making of this effortful art, at once visually and aurally.  The change in the character of art from section to section gave us a welcome respite for performers and the audience alike.  

The audience at the Invisible Dog was too large and diminished the impact the performance would have given amidst a smaller audience, preferably on two sides of the stage prompting a more concentrated focus on the happening.  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Good Story Well Told

A good story, read on the pages, does not necessarily make a good storytelling.  I am always prompted to think this after attending a play by Connor McPherson, as I did most recently The Shining City at the Irish Rep.   

When we read a story, we might read it aloud to ourselves; but reading is usually done silently by sight.  When we read a story to someone else, even to a child at bedtime, or perhaps especially when we read to a child, we do so expressively by modulating the voice and articulating the pauses, and this way we capture the interest and attention of the listener every step of the way, allowing no moment for the listening mind to wander or even wonder.  We don’t want to miss a single word and we don’t have time to think about what is being said while listening. This is good storytelling.   A story well told addresses individual listeners and engages them.   A story as a written text exposes but does not address an individual; it addresses a generalized audience.  Lectures do that, as do essays; we are allowed to reflect as we listen, to pause and ponder while listening, to wonder and wander. 

A good play is thrilling when it is a good storytelling, when it speaks to us individually rather than collectively.  Saying this, I don’t mean that the actors in a play break the fourth wall and address the audience, as Brecht did; the effect, then, is distanciation rather than captivation.  A play achieves the latter, when it is akin to good storytelling in its continuity and modulation.  These are certainly in the domain of the director’s art of pacing.  But some plays display them already in their written text.  We are then more liable to be smoothly drawn into the world of the narrative much like the experience we remember from our childhood as we listened to a good bedtime story.  When we say that Irish playwrights are good storytellers and write good plays, we become aware of the oral tradition of storytelling in Ireland.  In the age before printing, stories were only told in vocal recitation and remembered as an auditory experience by those who later told the same stories.  As I insistently claim, a poem should be read aloud for full effect, even though admittedly it can be a visual text to be experienced visually and mentally. 

A good theater can be a spectacle, a primarily visual and aural affair, presented to an audience.  But a good play is a good story well told.  A story, good or not, could sprawl, narrated or performed.  The recent play by Dan LeFranc, Rancho Viejo, sprawled; Stephen Karam’s The Humans rambled.  If a play goes on lecturing, even if it happened to be a good lecture, I can’t help thinking I’d then rather go hear a lecture than attend a play.  What I call a good play may be just one kind of good play; but a good story well told is to me very satisfying.


Forgetful but. . .

Viewing on YouTube video the repertory of the Buglisi Dance Company in preparation for attending its latest performance, I realized that I hardly remembered them even though I saw them previously, two or three times.  This was four years ago.  More recently, after attending Mozart’s Idomeneo, I thought I had never seen it before; but checking my record I discovered that I had seen it four times already in a decade.  Sometimes, what I didn’t remember, I rationalize, was forgotten because it was forgettable.  On the bright side, however, poor memory retention in old age is a boon because what might be a tiresome old hat of experience turns out to be all new and fresh.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A stitch in time

A stitch in time saves nine
so I wait a while longer 
and let the rip go a bit farther
then with many more stitches to mend 
don't I save a lot more than nine?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Mazzoli Breaks the Waves

I attended Missy Mazzoli's opera Breaking the Waves last night at the NYU Skirball Center.  It was outstanding. Everything about it was top notch: the music, the libretto, the set, the direction, the singers. 

The set, designed by Adam Rigg was a jumble of crisscrossing planks that filled a half of the stage, but it served ingeniously now as a promontory overlooking the sea, now as the oil rig, now as a hospital room; and the screen projections for different loci were very effective, too, especially the scene of the accident at the rig and the black smears that gradually filled the screens in the later scenes of the heroine’s behavioral degradation. The chorus, sometimes in black as churchmen, moved and sang menacingly, and their quick change to act the men at the rig and later as sex predators was also impressive; and the chorus members, highly individualized, registered as memorable characters.  James Darrah’s direction expertly blocked and paced the singers up and down the rickety planks. The libretto by Royce Vavrek, written in short phrases and, often repeated, were clear and easily heard.  Most of all, Mazzoli’s music was hauntingly expressive of intense and often complex emotions, dramatic at every turn.  The singers were all good, John Moore as Jan, certainly, but most of all the soprano Keira Duffy sang the difficult role beautifully; her total nudity, still shocking to some, may foretell a future, as Joyce's prose, once criminalized, no longer disturbs anyone today. 

The film by Lars von Trier tells a horrendous story about Bess, a strictly spiritual woman, who falls in love with Jan, an oilman; when he returns from an accident, totally paralyzed, she accuses herself and puts in action Jan’s order to go and have sex elsewhere, our of sheer increasing sense of guilt.  Mazzoli’s opera clarified the drama and powerfully conveyed the devastating effect on the two lovers rendered by the hypocritical church and the accident at the off-shore oil rig and ultimately the ironically twisted theme of Omnia vincit Amor.  As some critics claimed, this was certainly the best contemporary opera I had seen this year. 

Two years ago, I heard Mazzoli’s works in the Composer Portraits series at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre.  The program included the aria “His Name is John” from Breaking the Waves.  She was briefly interviewed during the program and shone in her articulate intelligence.  But the work of hers that I found especially impressive was “Death Valley Junction” from 2010, which depicted the place of that name on the border between Nevada and California, inhabited by three people, a home to eccentric Marta Beckett, “the woman who resurrected and repaired the crumbling opera house in the late 1960s and performed one-woman shows there every week until her retirement in 2012 at age 87. ”