Friday, November 26, 2004

it's all about contrast

Remnant of the snow from the day before, glimmering gray under the overcast sky versus the moist tropical warmth inside, generated by countless (and rusting) radiator panels and mist sprays high up on the glass walls; almost sickeningly intense pink of the fully-grown leaves versus the fresh lime green of the just spurted ones in the center; the fall of the once-affluent neighborhood surrounding the conservatory, evident in the peeling paints and rotting steps of beautifully designed houses of the old days. Everything about our visit to the Garfield Park Conservatory was about contrast. The stark contrast between the festive, frivolous atmosphere of the long line in front of the Marshall Fields' on State street to get into the store (or to see their holiday window display?) as we drove through downtown and the sparse visitors in the glass house consummated the list later on. It was the day after thanksgiving, the second biggest day of consumption in this country.
Originally uploaded by uBookworm.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

a camera to lust after

P bought a new camera: Canon EOS 300D digital rebel. To get used to it as soon as possible, we bundled up and went out to downtown on Saturday night for a shooting spree (we didn't shoot people with guns, of course). Getting off the brown line at Library, we wandered around the area, taking pictures of the triangular Cook County Jail, which could appear in a sci-fi movie as a head quarter of some kind of secret organization, and this Calder sculpture that looks as if it is on the verge of marching ahead, stomping the entire city flat with its clumsy feet, among other things. (The photo here was taken with my own camera, Olympus c-730, which is not a bad camera at all, but it turned out to be neigh nothing compared to the 300D.)

The images the 300D can capture are just mind-boggling. Even by the hand of someone who is still learning to manipulate the camera, with the poor light conditions at night, 300D can produce an amazingly sharp, detailed picture without any kind of noticeable pixelation, noise, or weird color effect. From about 35 yards, P took several pictures of the Calder sculpture reflected on the window glasses of an adjacent building, with a zoom lens the specifications of which I am not familiar with. To our pleasant surprise, though, in addition to the razor-sharp image of the reflected sculpture itself, every single bar of window screens was also clearly visible in the picture. It almost scared me when I realized that characters on documents hung on the wall of another building across the street, reflected on the same window glass, were almost legible.

The ultimate and tangible control this digital SLR gives us is addictive. The "click" the lens makes when it is mounted to the camera, the feel of the focus and zoom rings, and the nicely balanced weight of the camera and lenses... and of course, its amazing ability to take great pictures as if it were something like making a cup of instant coffee in the morning. In addition to all that, it makes the most pleasant and satisfying shutter noise. This camera ignited a flame of desire for an SLR in me!
(Chicago, IL, Nov./20/2004)
Originally uploaded by uBookworm.

Friday, November 19, 2004

great random rambler: Torahiko Terada

The most concise and quite a bit daring way to define Torahiko Terada is to say that he was a small-scale DaVinci. Born in 1878, he made his living as a respected physicist, and his paintings and haiku are said to have reached the realm of professionals. However, he is now best known as an essayist who could combine science, art, literature, and his everyday life into lovable and engaging essays that carry the feel of the early 20th century in which he lived. He was one of the many disciples/followers of Soseki Natsume, the great literary figure of the era, and many of his fellow disciples, as well as his mentor, make numerous cameo appearance in his essays. Despite the occasional invasion of outdated scientific terms and concepts (which sometimes add some unintended humor to his straight-faced explication of his theory), many Japanese people still love to read his numerous essays, for he excels in coming up with intriguing, still relevant questions, encompassing such a vast area of interest, and also in laying out his (often tentative) answers in convincing and fun-to-read ways. For those who are interested in the original Japanese version of his essays, 青空文庫 provides many free online copies of his works.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

read it, not live it: after reading "After Dark"

I just finished reading Haruki Murakami's newest novel "After Dark" last night, against my will to go to bed early this time. Hah.

It is a compelling read, as is always the case with his writings, but it has a radically different feel from his other works. The first source of discomfort is the unusually long and detailed description of the setting. The eye (so to speak) hovers in the midnight sky and then gradually sinks down into a megaloplois, finally focusing on an all-night family restaurant where one of the characters is observed. The sky, the lights of the city, the neon signs, the first influx of nocturnal people mixed with the leftover of the diurnals---everything is described closely, over two pages, with grotesque physiological simile.
[...] the city looks like a huge creature. Or it looks like an aggregate made up of numerous intertwined creatures. Countless blood vessels extend as far as the ends of the ambiguous body, circulate blood, replace the cells incessantly. (my tentative translation, p.3 of the original Japanese version)
As far as I can recall, Murakami is not the kind of author who pours incredible amount of effort into portraying the surroundings, and even when he does it, the description tend not to stand out by itself, smoothly and almost unnoticeablly integrated into our reading experience. (It could be that my way of reading has changed over time, though.) However, it is not the case with "After Dark." The detailed description demands our attention throughout the book, but especially in the opening few pages. The reason seems to be closely connected with the other "unusualness" of the novel: the nonexistence of the central "I" the narrator/protagonist.

Many, if not all, of Murakami's novels are written in the first person narrative, featuring a male narrator/actor through whose eyes we see the narrative world. The single gaze brings coherence to the novel, as well as somehow giving all the novels a similar, distinguishable feel of "Murakami world". Even though "After Dark" does have two characters on whom a significant part of the text is allocated, however, there is no single narrator/actor in this book who weaves meaning out of the chaotic world for us, packages it in words, and presents it to the readers. Instead, readers are asked to fill in this void as a part of the collective "we," through whose camera-like omniscient eyes the settings, characters, and events are witnessed and recorded.
We are watching her as a viewpoint that we have become. It might be more appropriate to say that we are stealing a look at her. The viewpoint can freely move in the room as a camera floating in the air. (my translation, from p.35 of the original)
With the introduction of the "we" the witness/narrator, the author successfully involved his readers more deeply and consciously into the narrative world, for the book does not offer a ready-made interpretation of the world by the narrator/protagonist any more (however confused it might be, a narration done by a character carries his interpretation of the narrative world inherently, thus freeing us from the burden of interpretation). Indeed, it might be safe to say that this novel is partly an author's experiment to bring the dynamics of reading experience to readers' consciousness. Deprived of a coherent, single person's interpretation of the narrative world handed to us as a narration by a protagonist, and explicitly referred to as "we" the witnesses/reporters, readers are made aware of what they do as readers; perceive the parts, interpret them, and weave them into a single, coherent story of their own. Detailed description was necessary as a raw material for the purpose, and it was more noticeable exactly because we were compelled to notice it to understand the narrative world.

It is a unique novel, probably different in style from any other Murakami's novels. In his other works, the meanings of the narrative world are packaged as a narrator's interpretarion, thus enabling readers to smoothly "live" the world. In contrast, readers are asked to join the witness/reporter "we" and to consciously interpret the world by themselves. Instead of "living" the book, readers are asked to "read" it. We all build our own interpretation of any book we read, but it might or might not be made conscious. To read "After Dark" is to do it in our conscious level. In that sense, the book seems to explicate what it really means to "read" a text.

(There are so many other things that I wish I could write about, especially concerning the mystery of the sleeping beauty and how well the novel captures the feel of contemporary nocturnal Tokyo. But I have mumbled enough today. Hopefully I'll come back to the topic sometime soon.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

word of the day: levitate

to rise and float in the air as if by magic, or to make someone do this

She tried to disprove the guru's ability to levitate while he meditates with his legs crossed, and with an admirable effort, succeeded to shoot a video in which she appears to be hovering, by hopping up in the air from the cross-legged squatting position.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

clematis gone crazy

This is the fourth time this year our clematis blooms. Yes, we keep the plant inside of the house when it's too cold for it, but still, four blossoms in a year is way too much. Even in the tropics, they crop rice three times a year at most. Hopefully it is not that the clematis sensed the end of the world and is desperately trying to leave as many of its genes as possible before the catastroph comes...
Originally uploaded by uBookworm.

Monday, November 15, 2004

word of the day: sardonic

speaking or smiling in a way that is not nice and shows you do not have a good opinion of someone or something

Mishima's description of women are alternatingly reverential and sardonic.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

word of the day: flummox

to completely confuse someone

The racoon seemed to be utterly flummoxed when the orange object it found turned out to be inedible.

Friday, November 12, 2004

"Ten Nights' Dreams" Soseki Natsume 10

[This is my translation of the tenth story in Soseki Natsume's "Ten Nights' Dreams." For a brief note on the book and the author, please refer to my biased introduction. Your comment is always welcome.]

The Tenth Night

Shotaro sprang back on the seventh night after he was abducted by a woman, and ever since had been sick in bed with sudden high fever, Ken came to let me know.

Shotaro is the most handsome man in the neighborhood and is good-natured and honest. Yet, he has only one indulgence. At twilights, he sits outside of a fruit shop, in his Panama hat, he gazes at the faces of women on the street. And is incessantly impressed. Other than that, there is not much peculiarity to mention about him.

When not many women pass by, he looks at the fruit instead of the street. There are various fruits. Peaches, apples, loquats, and bananas are neatly arranged in baskets, displayed in two rows, ready to be picked up for gifting. Shotaro always says "beautiful," looking at those fruits. He would pick a fruit stand if he were to start a business. Yet, he keeps bumming around with his Panama hat on.

Occasionally he does appraisals of citrons and the like, saying the color is excellent. But he has never paid a cent for a fruit. Of course he doesn't eat them for free, either. The only thing he does is to appraise the colors.

One evening, a lady appeared in front of the store, out of nowhere. She seemed to be of noble state, judging from her fine costume. The color of her kimono greatly pleased Shotaro. Beside, he was greatly impressed by her face as well. Thereupon, he took off his beloved Panama to her and greeted her courteously. The lady pointed at the largest of the baskets and said she would take that one. At that, Shotaro promptly picked up the basket and handed it to the lady. She weighed the basket in her hand a little, and observed, "oh, this is quite heavy!"

Being an affable guy, on top of being the one of leisure, Shotaro offered to carry the basket to her residence, and left the fruit shop with the lady. That was the last time he was seen.

It is too happy-go-lucky even for Shotaro. Something must have happened to him, his friends and relatives became upset. On the seventh night, he sprang back to his upset friends and relatives. They all clustered around him and interrogated his whereabout, and Shotaro said he had gone to the mountain on train.

That must have been a long train ride. According to him, he was in a field as soon as he got off the train. It was a vast field with exuberant green grass all over and as far as eye can see, and as he walked on the grass with the lady, he suddenly found himself on the tip of a cliff. There, the lady challenged him to jump off the cliff. Looking down, he could see the wall of the cliff, but not the bottom. Shotaro took off his Panama once more and declined over and over again. Then the woman asked, "if you dare not jump, you will be licked by pigs, will you be licked by pigs?" Shotaro detested pigs and a samurai-spirit-exalting popular singer. But he valued his life more, so he hesitated to jump off. At that a pig came oinking toward him. Not knowing what else to do, Shotaro hit its muzzle with a thin stick which he happened to have with him. The pig oinked once, toppled over, and went falling down the cliff. As Shotaro gave a sigh of relief, another pig came to nuzzle its tremendous nose against him. Reluctantly, he swung up his stick again. The pig went straight down the cliff after a single oink. Then another popped up. Then Shotaro realized that from afar, where the green field ended, tens of thousand of oinking pigs, more than one can count, were marching straight on to him standing on the cliff. He genuinely dreaded it. Yet he could not choose but to keep hitting the muzzles of approaching pigs with the stick, carefully, one by one. Strangely enough, the pigs went falling down to the bottom of the canyon, once the stick touched their nose. When he peeked down, he could see upside-down pigs went falling in a file, to the invisible bottom of the canyon. It frightened him to think that he himself drove down all those pigs into the canyon. But the pigs came up perpetually. As if black clouds had generated legs and plowed through green grass, they came oinking without an end.

With all his valor, he kept hitting the muzzles for seven days and six nights. Drained, however, with his hands as numb and weak as a jelly, he finally ended up being licked by a pig. He fell down on the cliff.

Having told Shotaro's story, Ken said that is why it is not a good idea to watch women too much. I thought it made sense. Ken said he wanted to inherit Shotaro's Panama hat.

I don't think he'll survive. The Panama will be Ken's.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

indulgence of mother tongue, and the deprivation thereof: 日本語の快楽-『豊饒の海』

I've been reading Yukio Mishima's four-volume novel "Mare Foecunditatis (Sea of Fecundity)" for a while now, alternately feeling ecstatic pleasure and slight sorrow. The author's incrediblly rich vocabulary and beautiful, complex imagery have brought home to me a chilling realization that each word acquires its unique tactile feel through my own life experienced (and sometimes expressed) through that particular word. The emotion each word in the novel evoked in me was so closely tied with my direct and indirect experience in Japanese that it seems unlikely for me to feel the same level of emotional tie to English words, given my lost 23 years in terms of experiencing things in English and thus acquiring the almost tactile feel of the English words. Is it the right decision for me to give up the rich experience of living in my mother tongue (at least in everyday situations) and to live the rest of my life numbed by the thick membrane that devide me and the words I use without fully understanding/feeling them? It is a deprived life. Can I afford the tremendous loss? Am I willing to?

三 島由紀夫の『豊饒の海』を読んでいる。久しぶりに読む凝縮された絢爛な日本語は、上達してきたとはいえ母語ではない英語に比べると、段違いの手応えが あって、一つ一つの言葉を辿るごとに鮮やかな映像や鋭敏な思考が瞬間的に心の裡に浮かび上がる。三島由紀夫という作家の特性もあるのだろうが、しばらく遠 ざかっていた本格的な日本語の文章に、読むことの快楽の記憶を呼び覚まされた。深く親密に自分と繋がった「母語」の一つの究極の形態に、この大河小説を通 して触れることは、それを(少なくとも日常性の中では)断念して「非・母語」の中で生きることの重い喪失にも私の目を向けさせて、少し哀しくなる。言語 フェティッシュの気の多分にある私としては、英語が自分にとってコミュニケーションの手段以上のものになる日がそう遠くないことを祈るばかりだ。(英語の 中でこれまでの生を過ごしてこなかった私が、その言語の中での経験によって獲得する個々の言葉の手触りのようなものを、果たして読書や「勉強」を通した間 接的な経験でどこまで獲得できるのか、大いに疑問はあるけれど・・・)

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

overdue Japanese maple

I've been meaning to take pictures of Japanese maple's fall foliage for more than a month now, and finally did it today. I just love their wonderful gradation from vermillion to crimson in autumn, as well as their lime-green shoot in early spring. The flicker of sunshine through the slashess of their intricately shaped leaves always makes me joyous, especially when the tree is ancient and tall, making the fierce sunlight of Japanese summer even gentler. I am happy I finally recorded their fall colors in Chicago, so far away from my home country. (River Forest, IL, Nov./9/2004)

Originally uploaded by uBookworm.

wandering poet's sensory Haiku: "Collected Haiku of Santoka Taneda"

[There used to be a tradition of wandering poets in Japanese culture that dates back at least to the days of aristocracy in the A.D. 900s. They often dressed as begging bonzes, or were actually Buddhist monks, as well as being Haiku or Tanka (a longer form of Japanese poem from which Haiku derived) poets. Those vagabond poets usually counted on support from provincial lords and affluent merchants who appreciated their works. Their strange existence as wanders put them outside of the social norms of their contemporary. It tempted some as an escape from worldly concerns and a total concentration on their artistry, whereas others simply pursued the ultimate solitude in their wandering lives. Santoka Taneda belonged to that tradition, and probably one of the last. Born in 1882, Santoka led a life plagued with misfortunes and resulting self-destruction, mainly deriving from alcoholism and mental breakdowns. Even though he started writing Haiku in his twenties and published some of them, his artistry did not take off until he became a priest after he stopped a train in a drunken stupor. He was 43 years old. He experimented with free Haiku, which does not have the conventional 5-7-5 syllables, and now is considered to be one of the best in the field. During his nomad life that lasted from 1926 to the day of his death in October 1940, he wrote numerous free Haiku, many of which sharply capture the loneliness and sorrow of his sometimes joyously boisterous life, at the same time succinctly depicting sceneries form his vagabondage. (I am stunned to realize that he could continue his nomadic life well into the chaos and devastation of the World War II.) Below are some of his free Haiku's I translated from Japanese, along with my brief comment. Original text is available on 青空文庫, as well as a professional translation by James Green. The brief biographical information is based on a chronological table in "Taneda Santoka---a Wandering Haiku Poet" by Tota Kaneko, published by Kodansha, 1982.]

A firefly
When darkness scents

*All four Haiku listed here depend heavily on sensory perception. In this Haiku, uncertain feel of gradually dimming dusk in summer is presented through the visual image of the first firefly of the evening. The second line rivets the vague, inexplicable sense of insecurity by focusing on the olfactory perception, thus suggesting the dimness that only allows flickers of the firefly to be visible.

Hailstones even into the iron bowl

*This piece deploys even more sensory perception: auditory, visual, and tactile. Those who know a bit about the poet's nomadic life will instantly have the image of him on the road, in the middle of nowhere, being hit by a sudden cold storm. The freezing weight of the iron bowl (that he uses for mendicancy) is almost tangible. The contrast between the white of the hailstones and the black of the bowl can be vividly seen by our mind's eyes. The sharp metallic sounds of hails popping against the bowl accentuates the poet's solitude---there is no other sound around him.

A crow's caw
I am alone, too

*This is an homage to a free Haiku by Hosai Yamaguchi, who apprenticed under the same Haiku poet as Santoka. "Even when I cough/I am alone" is the original by Hosai. In Santoka's version, crow's caw is used to spotlight the solitary silence, instead of the poet's own cough. By using the sound from the nature, Santoka succeeded in taking the solitude out into the wilderness where he roamed, from the confinement of a small tatami-matted room where Hosai probably gave out a cough without having anybody hear him.

Silence of the mountain
Is a white flower

*The overwhelming silence in the untrodden mountains is given an incarnation in a white flower. The vast scope that encompasses an entire mountain (or the silence that dominates the entire world of the poet, on that matter) is instantly condensed into a microcosm of a single white flower through the funnel of appropriate verb "is." The two radically different auditory and visual images are linked together with such an amazing swiftness that one almost feels the sheer force of imagination that compresses the huge mass of mountain into a small, fragile flower.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

"Ten Nights' Dreams" Soseki Natsume-9

[This is my translation of the ninth story in "Ten Nights' Dreams" by Soseki Natsume from Japanese. For a brief information about the book and the author, refer to my biased and unprofessional comment. Your feedback is always appreciated.]

The world has started to feel vaguely turbulent. A war seems to break out at any moment. It feels as if bareback horses, burnt out from the stable, were rampaging around the premises day and night, and the foot soldiers were chasing them in troops day and night. Yet inside the house it is still and quiet.

There are a young mother and a three-year-old child. The father has gone somewhere. He went away to somewhere in a moonless midnight. He put on a pair of straw sandals on the floor, put on a black coif, and went out from the kitchen door. The paper lantern the mother held at that time cast a narrow, long light into the black darkness, revealing an old cypress tree inside of the hedge.

The father has never returned. The mother asks the child every day, "where is your father?" The child didn't say anything. After a while, it has learned to say "over there." Even when the mother asks "when is your father coming back?", it replies "over there" and smiles. At such moments the mother smiles. She has repeatedly been teaching it the phrase "he is coming back soon" countless times. But the child has learned only "soon". Sometimes it says "soon" when it is asked "where is your father?"

When night falls and everything settles down, the mother retighten her sash, tuck a dagger in a shark-skin sheath into the sash, straps the child onto the back with another, narrower sash, and sneaks out from the wicket gate. The mother always has a pair of straw sandals on. The child sometimes falls asleep on her back, listening to the sound of these sandals.

Down along the residential area lined with earthen walls to the west, there is a giant gingko tree at the end of a long downward slope. Turning right at the gingko tree, a stone gate of a shrine appears about a hundred yards ahead. On one side of the path to the gate are rice paddies, while on the other side are bamboo bushes as far as the eyes can sweep. Past the gate, the path cuts into a dark cedar grove. Then about a forty yard of a stone-paved approach leads to the foot of a front shrine. Above an offertory chest, washed out to a dull gray, hangs a rope of a large bell, next to which is a calligrapher and framed name of the shrine only visible in the daylight. One of the characters has an intriguing design of two doves facing each other. There is a variety of other frames as well. Most are metal archery marks with the names of their men who hit the center of it. A few encases swords.

Past the stone gate, there is always hooting of an owl on the crest of a cedar tree. And the sandals make wet sounds. When the sound cease in front of the front shrine, the mother first chimes the bell, then kneels immediately and claps her hands in worship. Usually the owl abruptly stops hooting at this moment. Then the mother frantically prays for the safety of her husband. According to her single-minded faith, with her husband being a samurai warrior, there is no reasonable way that her devoted vow to this god of bow and arrows should not be heard.

The child often wakes up to the sound of the bell, looks around to find himself in a total darkness, and bursts into crying on her back. Then the mother, uttering some muffled prayer in her mouth, rocks her back in an attempt to comfort him. Sometimes the cry stops. Other times it gives out even more intense squalls. Either way, the mother would not stand up easily.

When she is done with the prayer for her husband's safety, she unties the narrow sash, sliding the child down and around from the back to the bottom, climbs up to the front shrine with the child enfolded in her arms, and determinedly rubs her cheek to the child's, saying "you're a good child, you can wait for me for a little while, can't you?" Then she lets the sash long and loose, ties the child to the railing of the front shrine by one of its ends. And she comes down the steps to walk back and forth the hundred yards of the stone-paved approach in prayer.

The child, tied to the front shrine, crawls around the wide veranda in darkness, as long as the length of the narrow sash allows him to. Such is a quite easy night for the mother. When the secured child screeches, however, she becomes nervous. Her steps of the prayer of hundred laps pick up. She gasps for breath. When it is absolutely inevitable, she goes up to the front shrine halfway through the prayer of hundred laps, lulls the child with a whole bag of tricks, and restarts the laps again.

The father, whom the mother worried over for innumerable nights, without being able to sleep even in the wee hours, has long been killed by a master-less samurai.

My mother told me this sad story in a dream.

Monday, November 08, 2004


Madre mia, I saw the aurora!

As I pulled into the driveway, (I was coming back home from the concert) I saw something like a laser beam cut across the sky from the east to the west. Puzzled by the strange wideness of the light and the unstable light intensity of the phenomenon, I hurried in to the backyard for a better view, and there they were, a couple of ethereal curtains of pale green light, gently wavering in the lower northeastern sky, unmistakably an aurora borealis. I called P, woke up my mother, and watched the ephemeral yet vibrant feast of light. Seeing the aurora weaken after about ten minutes, I went back in, sharing joy and disbelief with mom. I curled up in futon, and started to read the book I'd been reading for a few days.

Then P called me back, saying that it is even more bright and has spread all over the sky. I grabbed my camera, picked up the first winter jacket my hand felt in the dark closet, and rushed out to the backyard again. P was right: now numerous streams ran across the sky at an incredible speed, mostly from the east to the west, some from the north to the southwest. Several cloud-like patches had appeared here and there, and the streams were just countless. Flying dragons, reflections on the water surface seen from the bottom of a pool, steams... words I uttered in a vain attempt to compare the celestial spectacle above me lost their dazzle instantly as I uttered them, and before long I stood in awe, speechless, barely able to make nonverbal sounds of admiration for particularly dynamic streams and bright patches with rainbow gradation. After a good 45 minutes, I realized that my bare feet were an inch from frozen and that I have to get up at 7 for school tomorrow. I went back in happy and sorry at the same time, happy for being able to see it, sorry for having to leave it when it was still there.

It was my first time to see an aurora borealis in person, and I cannot be grateful enough to my sheer luck to be gazing up to the sky when the (probably one of the first few) stream of light flashed there. It was an impossible combination of delicacy and might, ephemera and eternity that brought me back to the primordial awe and mythical inspiration. I remember standing in the same awe in an opening in Guatemalan forest, under the sapphire dome of sky, studded with millions of flickering stars still visible even in the incredibly bright, cool, sharp moonlight. Celestial events, with their surreal scale and dynamics, have a magical power to gently yet decisively transfer us into a vast expanse of time and space, beyond the limit of our lives chained down to "now" and "here," to which we are so accustomed. When we are immersed in such events, many ancient myths come alive to us, reasserting their long-lost persuasion and dominance over us. At least I feel that way. And I am a rational person by day. It touches the deep part of human being where reason may not be able to place its bloody hands.

lethargic concert

As someone who purely hated the forced piano practice and could come up with inventive excuses for not practicing, I do not have a pair of appreciative ears for music, I admit that. That taken into consideration, however, I cannot contain the urge to say that the first night of Impetus Concert Series that a friend of mine has been organizing was less than a success. Held in the small, cozy space in 3030, a former church converted to a musical venue by a nonprofit group, the concert featured two performances; an ambient-music-leaning piece probably composed and definitely played on a couple of PowerBooks, accompanied by a oddly tense drummer, and a piano and electric guitar ensemble with occasional singing by the pianist/singer.

The first performance did have its moments when the beat picked up and let us be oblivious as our bodies naturally reacted to the beat. The major disadvantage of that kind of music is that it is not very exciting to WATCH as it is being played. One guy sat in front of two computers, almost motionless entire time, with only his right forefinger inching back and forth on a mixing console. The other guy, the drummer, was far from boisterous as one might expect from a drummer. I have my reservation here, for he seemed to be deliberately containing his body movement as he performed (to the extent that he appeared as if he was trying to control compulsive movements of his paralyzed muscles). So his very restricted and subtle drumming could have been something my underdeveloped musical aesthetic couldn't fathom. Their performance could have been much more enjoyable and effective with a help of some visuals, for I felt like I was watching a movie without the image being projected.

The second performance, a duo of a singer/pianist and an electric guitarist, was a disappointment, to say the least. I was fortunate to have a glimpse of their rehearsal and the female singer's husky voice, almost painfully jumping up from a low key to a much higher key in a small passage she practiced over and over again, was haunting. Her grievous voice seemed to be perfect to intensify the melancholic melody of the passage. However, to my great disappointment, the two musicians, even though they seemed to have played together before, never got along well in this particular night. It seemed that the singer/pianist was playing selfishly without listening to or respecting the guitarist, and eventually lost control of her unjustifiable frustration against the poor guitarist. The sounds rendered by the two never had an euphoric moment of resonance and sublimation. (P said that the singer was far out of tune, but I do not have the ability to discuss that possibility here, or anywhere in this world, on that matter.) Combined with the fact that the singer/pianist was incessantly drinking during her own performance from a plastic cup placed on the piano, a wine bottle, and from a Sake bottle, which deteriorated her performance, instead of adding free and spontaneous element to it, she didn't give me a single good impression to say the least, but that is not the point, either.

I am very pleased to see the venue full of people coming to an independent local concert (that my friend helped organize), and exactly because it was bustling with audience, am very sorry that the first night was not as good as it could have been. Also, the Impetus Concert Series has put into practice an interesting idea of distributing CDs containing new works of the performers so that it would bring an ideal balance of studio work and public performance to the artists, at the same time providing one more incentive for audience to join the concert. I hope that tonight's audience will stick around and the next concert on the 5th of December will bring us more enjoyable pieces.
(3030 W. Cortland St. Chicago, Nov./7/2004)
3030 monky and crown (rszd)
Originally uploaded by uBookworm.

Friday, November 05, 2004

word of the day: audacity

the quality of having enough courage to take risks or to do shocking/rude things

Audacity is often a temporary gift bestowed upon youth that could bring about an otherwise impossible change to one's life.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

"Ten Nights' Dreams" Soseki Natsume-8

The Eighth Night

As I stepped over the threshold of a barber shop, three or four sitting together in white kimono said hello in unison.
Glanced from the middle, it was a square room. Windows opened to two directions and on the remaining two walls hung mirrors. The mirrors counted up to six.
I came in front of one and sat down. Then my buttock sank into the chair with a funny sound. It was a surprisingly comfortable chair to sit on. The mirror reflected my face grandly. Behind my face I had a view of the window. Sideways there was the lattice around the cashier's desk in sight. Nobody was inside the lattice. The mirror gave me a commanding view of the people passing along the street, waist up.
Shotaro passed with a woman. He had bought a panama hat without my knowledge and had it on. He even sneakily got a woman. I didn't understand. They both appeared to be boasting. They disappeared before I could have a better look at the woman's face.
A street tofu vendor walked past, blowing a horn. With his horn pressed against his lips, his cheeks were bloated as if they had been stung by a bee. Because he walked past all bloated, I couldn't help worrying about him. It felt as if he was being stung by bees all his life.
A Geisha appeared. She hadn't put makeup on. Loose hairdo made her head look flabby. Her face looked sleepy as well. Her complexion is pitifully pale. She bowed and said something, but the one to whom it was directed would not appear in the mirror.
Then a large man in white kimono came up behind me and started to look at my head with scissors and a comb in his hands. I twisted my thin beard and asked him if I would make it. The white man lightly tapped my head with the hand-held comb without giving any answer.
"Well, forget about my head. What do you think, am I going to make it?" I asked the white man. He still didn't answer, and began to click the scissors.
I gazed into the mirror, determined not to miss a single shadow reflected on it, but I became horrified by the black hair flying toward me every time the scissors clicked and closed my eyes before long.
At this the white man said, "did you see the goldfish vendor outside, sir?"
I told him I hadn't. Oblivious, the white man diligently continued to click his scissors. Then somebody yelled "watch out." Startled, I opened my eyes and saw a bicycle wheel under the sleeve of the white man. Then there came shafts of a rickshaw. In a split second the white man forced my head sideways with his hands. The bicycle and the rickshaw disappeared from my eye sight. The clicks of scissors continued.
After a while the white man came around to my side and began to clip around the ear. For the hair stopped flying into my face, I opened my eyes with ease. Calls of a millet cake vendor were heard right outside. Hitting the mortar intentionally with a small mallet, he was pounding the millet cake with nice rhythm. I hadn't seen a millet cake vendor since I was a child. I wanted to have a peek. But the vendor would never appear in the mirror. I could only hear the pounding.
I strained my eyes as best I could to look into a corner of the mirror. Then I realized that there was a woman sitting inside the lattice. It was a dark, large woman with thick eyebrows and hair done in the shape of a flipped gingko leaf, dressed in a simple kimono with its collar covered with a piece of black satin. With one knee drawn up, she was counting what looked like ten yen bills. She intently counted the bills, her eyelashes cast down, her thin lips tightly shut. Her counting speed was impressive. Yet the bills never seemed to come to an end. On her lap were at most a hundred, but the hundred never seemed to be counted off.
Aghast, I stared at the face of the woman and the bills. Then the white man said into my ear, in a loud voice, "I'll wash them off." I took this advantage and looked back at the lattice around the cashier's desk as I stood up from the chair. But there was nothing visible inside the lattice, no woman, no bills.
Having paid for the cut, I came back out. To the left of the entrance, there were about five oval-shaped buckets arranged, and in them swam all kinds of goldfish, red, spotted, skinny, plump. A goldfish vendor was behind them. The vendor had his gaze fixed upon the fish arranged in front of him, and was motionless with his chin resting in his hands. He barely paid attention to the lively activity of the street. I stood for a while to watch the goldfish vendor. While I watched him, he didn't move an inch.

photo of the day: nightmare before Christmas

Oh well, the title and the photo explain everything (hopefully)... There was a piece on NPR that I heard on my way back home, in which an immigrant guy in New York expressed my feeling. "I don't believe this. I'm an immigrant and I can't vote, and Americans elected that man again! I didn't think he would be reelected... everybody I meet everyday had complaint against him." My visceral reaction is just like his. My rational brain knows that I live in a liberal-leaning urban area as this immigrant man does, and it gives both of us the misperception that our view is shared by most Americans anywhere in the country. But I just can't believe (nor understand) this depressing result; this time, George W. Bush won more than half the popular votes, even with the record voter resistration and turnout. More than half the Americans do like him for all what he's done and he's planning to do . Had Kerry won, it wouldn't make a major difference in the direction this country with obscene influence over the whole world is going, but I don't think it could be any worse than Bush's intolerance in every corner of his policy. ...How hopelessly different our perception, thinking, and feeling can be from one another, expressed in this election, just amazes me. (Oak Park, IL, Nov./4/2004)
Posted by Hello

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

word of the day: scrumptious

very tasty

The supposedly scrumptious scrambled egg came under strict scrutiny.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

word of the day: whack

to hit someone or something hard
to kill someone, esp. someone who is involved in a crime, as a panishment

If the other guy wins, I'm basically whacked.


今日11月2日は、アメリカ全土で数千数万の公職の椅子の行き先が決まる投票 日である。2000年の大統領選挙は、日本で対岸の火事を見るごとく見守っていた私にも小さな傷を残したくらいだから、その結果の重みをこの四年間、直に 背負ってきたこちらの人たちが、今度こそは「一人一票」の原則を死守しようとほとんど半狂乱になっているのも無理はない。マイノリティーのコミュニティー に情報操作のビラが撒かれたり(「11月3日には必ず投票に 行こう」とか、「もしあなたに犯罪歴があったら、たとえそれがスピード違反でも、あなたに投票権はありません」とか。)、ジョージア州のある郡のヒスパ ニック有権者全員の市民権に云われなき疑問符を付ける訴訟が起こされたり、選挙をめぐる不審な動きには枚挙に暇がないけれど、日本人の私にとって驚きなの は、いかに多くのアメリカ人が選挙の技術的な側面に疑いを持っているか、ということと、その延長線上に漂う大規模かつ組織的な裏工作の臭い。コンピュー ターベースの投票機には不正操作の噂が付きまとい(これには、ブッシュ政権との関係も取り沙汰される納入会社が、各有権者にそれぞれの投票結果を記録した レシートを発行することを頑強に拒否していることも一役買っているのだけれど)、フロリダでは選挙権を剥奪された元囚人のリストに、(2000年に引き続 き再び)何の関係もない黒人有権者が「手違いで」大量にリストアップされ、インターネット上では不在者投票用紙の請求フォームが数週間にわたって海外から アクセスできなくなるーーーナイーブになるつもりはないけれど、これほど大規模な不正操作は、私の知る限り近年の日本にはなかった。二つの大政党はお互い を数々の選挙違反を犯しているとして非難しあうし、民主主義の根本たる選挙制度への信頼がみるみるうちに崩れていくのを見ていると、他人事ながら心配に なってしまう。これでは、アメリカ人の多くが軽蔑と憐憫の入り交じった眼差しを向けるであろう、「第三世界」の腐敗した民主主義と、それへの絶望に端を発 した武力闘争も、そんなに遠い国のことではないのではないか、と。ごく普通の一般市民が、自らの意思を投票を通じて実現することに熱くなるーーーそれは参 加型民主主義の理想であり根本であり、私を含めて民主主義の怠惰な消費者が多くを占める日本が学ぶべき態度ではあるのだけれど、それが歪められた選挙制度 と組み合わさったときに、はけ口のないいらだちがどんな形で噴出するのか、背筋が寒くなる。

Monday, November 01, 2004

word of the day: consummate

(adj) very skillful or complete and perfect in every way
(v) to make a marriage or a relationship complete by having sex

The renowned and consummate moralist, Bill O'Reilly finally consummated his sweet, equal, and respectful relationship with her.

photo of the day: is it dreamy, or is it creapy

I'm trying to find out which of the photo-blogging tools (Hello and Flickr) works better... In terms of the quality, I'm completely for Flickr, but I don't like the way it places the photo and the text. Another drawback of Flickr is my narrow-band connection. It takes minutes to upload a single picture. Probably I should learn HTML to have a better control over what I post.

I took this picture about ten days ago (and have been a slacker), when I went out for a walk around Skokie Lagoons in Northbrook. Several pods of lady's slippers have just popped open, and the fresh, white fluff of thier seeds was absolutely beautiful, without any hint of moisture, dust, or anything else. (The white hair can be VERY nasty when it's wet and dirty, believe me.) I thanked my good luck and took several pictures of them. I continued the walk, and then some other newly-popped pods caught my eyes. In a corner of my blurred eyesight, I saw something very bright and animate. All curious, I slashed my way through tall weeds (picking up a bunch of prickly seeds, of course,) to the tiny orange objects, and found out that there were tens of orange and black insects, about half an inch in length, busily toddling among the gorgeous white fluff. Even under the overcast sky and poor light, it was a fascinating sight.

住んだことのない土地に住む楽しみの一つは、何もかもが新鮮に見えること。実際 に見たことのないものもあれば、見慣れない背景を与えられたことで新鮮に見 える、見慣れたものたちもある。この前衛芸術のような奇妙な植物は、私にとっては(おそらくはほとんどの日本人にとっても)前者に属する。実の形から lady's slipperと呼ばれるこの植物、日当たりを好むらしく、開けた平地に群落を作って生えていることが多い。6月に小さな花がたくさん集まって大きな鞠の ように見える花が咲いたあとに、ベルベットのような毛の生えた固い殻に包まれた種ができ、10月頃になるとそれが次々と弾けて、白いふさふさの綿毛のつい た平べったい大きな種が大空に放たれる。すっくと伸びた茎についた鎧のような殻の割れ目から、整然と並んだ清潔な綿毛が風になびく様はまさに壮観。そこに オレンジの地に黒い模様の婆娑羅な虫まで加わって、幻想的なような背筋が寒くなるような。この奇妙なミスマッチ、確かに私を捉えて放さない不思議な魅力を 持ってはいた。(Skokie Lagoons, IL. Oct./22/2004)
Originally uploaded by uBookworm.