On Friday morning the weather was cold and wet. We readied to leave for work half an hour before departure, the two of us dealing out rain gear and debating the need for boots. I was going to meet Emmett at the train station after work and then off to Kyoto with us! We were celebrating our fourth anniversary. Four years of solid high fives, dancing in the kitchen, making instruments out of empty containers, packing and moving, making homes, making food, making friends, and participating in spontaneous a capella eruptions of Joanna Newsom’s “Bridges and Balloons.” Leaving the house, Emmett said, “Our adventure begins tonight!” I summoned Cary Grant, “Our adventure began four years ago.” Continue reading
Author Archives: Melissa
It’s what every house needs, but no one has done right since the construction of Nijo Castle in Kyoto. Constructed in 1626 as a residence for the Tokugawa Shogun, Nijo Castle is equipped with uguisubari, or Nightingale flooring, that chirps when walked on. Visitors walk through the corridors looking in on the immaculate tatami rooms once used by the Imperial Court, admiring the murals and the woodcarving, and all the while the enormous cyprus floorboards creak beneath their their feet. To dispel the magic, the gigantic nails used in the flooring are designed to rub against clamps and sound like birds in case an assassin should try to sneak along the castle halls. The softer ninjas walk, the louder they creak. This bad cat was not supposed to use a camera in the castle, but here is a YouTube video of the floor in action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJThECzA1bc&feature=related
This post is also featured on the Japan page.
In Kentucky we used to walk a mile to Kroger’s grocery store to buy Soy Delicious peanut butter chocolate swirl ice cream. We would bring our own spoons and eat out of the pint on the way home. We didn’t keep soda in the house so that I could take thesis writing breaks and walk to the corner store. Earlier on than that, a few friends and I walked to a creek 15 miles outside of town. We packed olives and bread and apples and forgot to apply sunscreen to the backs of our necks. Our long hikes on the trails of Mammoth Cave National Park and through Daniel Boone Forest changed what we considered “walkable.” Continue reading
We’ve only known her for one day and we might already Ω her. Capucine is a four year old little girl who lives in France with her family. She is a riveting storyteller and skilled actress. Her mother has been posting videos of her on Vimeo.com for over three years. Now, that which was probably an effort to keep Miss Capucine in touch with friends and relatives has made her a global sweetheart. Our friend Bonny sent me a link to this video—THANK YOU—it made my day. Continue reading
A few years back, my roommates, some friends and I were sitting around the dinner table making lists. The lists were of our top ten favorite smells, tastes, sounds, textures and the like. I filled mine out carefully, each decision sifted from a wide variety of synaesthetic moments in my life. In my sixth month of living in Japan, I now feel so strongly about one of these items that I could forgo the other nine and fill the entire textures list with one word: mochi.
Mochi is rice pounded into a paste and then shaped into or wrapped around whatever its maker wishes. It is the Plaster of Paris of Japanese food and it is divine; it feels like baby cheeks. Along with the apparent magic of mochi, it factors beautifully in Japanese culture, becoming not only a triumphant symbol of Japanese cuisine but also the industriousness of rabbits.
Seventeen hours of driving can carve quite a chunk out of a read-aloud project, but with our move to Japan and starting new jobs, it took six months to wade through the jungle of Marquez’s magical but viney prose. We finished it last night. We’d had about 40 pages to go for weeks. Emmett and I started the book in July on a road trip from San Antonio to Nashville, on our way to our wedding reception in Emmett’s hometown.
Last night I read to Emmett as he cooked dinner. When we paused to eat, he noted how fitting it was that we’ve taken so long to finish the book because the story expands over at least 6 decades and deals so heavily in time and endurance.
We finished reading later in bed and let out the deep sighs of perfect endings. I was tempted to say that I liked this book better than One Hundred Years of Solitude. But the two are not nearly the same. One Hundred Years is a history, a family story. Cholera is about the lifespan and love of just two people, from the near beginning to the near end of their lives. The topics are handled so differently, I decided to abandon thoughts of which might be better. In Cholera, Marquez tells a gritty and uncomfortable love story whose characters shift from protagonist to antagonist and back again. The novel, like its title, juxtaposes two contrary ideas, euphoric love and gruesome illness. We are unable to distinguish the two in the thick of the story, but in time, we slowly come to our senses.
This is always my experience with magical realism. It starts out in exaggeration, becomes fat bellied with sparkles and lunacy, and then sobers up to pull off a careful and hard won peace. Magical realism is a genre that goes hand in hand with Latin American folklore and myth. Marquez’s narrators tell stories earnestly, but the details are otherworldly. The acceptance of magical events as extraordinary but not impossible helps us recognize the more magical gifts of our own reality, a good lesson in gratitude and present-mindedness. One of the most mysteriously described scenes in One Hundred Years is the precious first chapter wherein gypsies come into port bearing enormous diamonds of bitterly cold heat whose name is not written until the last word: ice.
As for Cholera, it does not read as much like a legend in which fantastical events are accepted as truths, but rather treads carefully on the softer-glowing edges and mysteriously won battles of love.
*Note from TigerSpider: Read the book, skip the movie. Dispite featuring the glorious Javier Bardem, we do not Ω the movie. Not one bit.
On Monday, I played Jingle Bells on the koto. Mizutani-sensei tuned it on a traditional Western do-re-mi scale and sounded out the sheet music’s title in katakana. “Jinguru Beru,” she said and beamed at me. I had been playing Sakura Sakura and other Japanese folk songs whose names in Kanji I could not read. Jingle Bells seemed unsuited for the koto, but her eyes were excited, like we were in for big fun. Even with the new tuning, I had to play in funky half notes. This was hard for me and I kept losing my place on the vertical sheet music. I could tell I was disappointing her the same way I disappoint other Japanese people when I don’t know something about American pop culture. Like when my supervisor was shocked to learn I haven’t seen Bad News Bears and that I don’t own any Police albums.