Archive for Japan

a journal of the plague year² [or the unbearable lightness of staying]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2021 by xi'an

Read Haruki Murakami’s First Person Singular, a collection of short stories, some already published in The New Yorker, and quite diverse. Even with those I did not like much, I appreciated the enormous skill in making an uninteresting event or line of thought into something worth reading, while still keeping the thing utterly mundane. A super version of i-novel as well as a pastiche. Short stories like With the Beatles or Carnival are quite powerful. And The Stone Pillow even more. The cover of the book, with its  Shinagawa monkey reaching out for something adds to its appeal, even though the corresponding story did not really need the monkey [as a monkey].

Spent a whole Sunday morning preparing vegetables from the farmers’ market for the week, with mixed results as some turned sour before we could eat them! (No one got sick though!) And has a taste of our first strawberries [plentiful after a wet cool Spring], cherries [tasty, but which did not resist the onslaught of magpies, pigeons, and slaty-headed parakeets], rubharb, and potatoes [which grew on their own from discarded peel].

Watched Strangers, a 2017 Korean TV series. To quote the New York Times, “the murder mystery “Stranger” has less of the usual awkwardness and obviousness of many South Korean dramas as well as another big advantage: It stars the immensely likable Bae Doo-na as a fearless cop.” Indeed! Besides this central figure of Bae Doo-na, who also plays in Kingdom, the show is faster paced than others and steers away from both supernatural elements and romantic side-stories (if barely). The only annoying part is the constant upheaval of characters’ morals, who at one point or another are suspected of one crime or another. And the rushed final episode.

journal of the [second] plague year [con’d]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2021 by xi'an

Read The Office of Gardens and Ponds (in French), by Didier Decoin [whom John l’Enfer I read more than forty years ago, with no lasting memories!], another random book found in the exchange section of our library!  While a pastiche of Japanese travel novels, the book is quite enjoyable and reminded me of our hike on the Kumano Kodō routes, two years ago. The tale takes place in 12th Century Japan and tells of the epic travel of a widow to the capital, Kyoto, carrying live carps for the gardens of the emperor. While some sections are somewhat encyclopedic on the culture of medieval Japan [and I thus wonder how Japanese readers have reacted to this pastiche], the scenario is rather subtle and the characters have depth, incl. the dead husband. The scene of the perfume competition is particularly well-imagined and worth reading on its own. I figure I will not bring the book back. (Warning: this book was voted a 2019 winner of the Bad Sex Award!). Also read Patti Smith’s Devotion, which was one of my Xmas presents. I had never read anything but Smith’s songs, since 1976 (!) with Horses, missing by little some of her concerts as on the week I was in Rimini… The book is quite light, and not only length-wise, made of two travel diaries in (to?) Paris and in (to?) Southern France, where she visits Camus’ house, and of a short story she writes on the train. While the diaries are mildly interesting, if a bit American-Tourist-in-Paris-cliché (like this insistence to find glamour in having breakfast at Café Flore!), the story comes as a disappointment, both for being unrealistic [in the negative sense] and for reproducing the old trope of the young orphan girl becoming the mistress of a much older man [to continue skating]. The connection with Estonia reminded me of Purge, by Sofi Oksanen, a powerful novel about the occupations of Estonia by Nazis and Soviet troups, an haunting novel of a different magnitude…

Made  soba noodles with the machine, resulting into shorte-than-life noodles, due to the high percentage of buckwheat flour in the dough, still quite enjoyable in a cold salad. Also cooked a roghan josh lamb shack, along with chapatis flavoured with radish leaves [no fire alarm this time] and a vegetable dahl whose recipe I found in Le Monde the same morn. Also took advantage of the few weeks with fresh and tender asparagus sold at the local market to make salads.

Watched a few episodes of Better than Us, Лучше (чем люди), a Russian science-fiction series set in a close future with humanoid robots replacing menial workers, until one rogue version turns uncontrollable, à la Blade Runner. There are appealing aspects to the story, besides the peep into a Russian series and the pleasure of listening to Russian, about the porous frontier between human and artificial intelligence. The scenario however quickly turns into a predictable loop and I eventually lost interest. Even faster did that happen with the Irregulars of Baker Street horror series, which I simply could not stand any further (and which connection with Holmes and Watson is most tenuous).

Having registered for a vaccination to the local pharmacy, I most got surprisingly called a few days later mid-afternoon to come at once for a shot of AstraZeneca, as they had a leftover dose. And a rising share of reluctant candidates for the vaccine!, despite David’s reassurances. I am unsure this shot was done early enough to get abroad for conferences or vacations in July, but it is one thing done anyway. With no side effect so far.

remember Fukushima [福島を偲んで]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on March 11, 2021 by xi'an

hotaruraito

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on November 17, 2020 by xi'an

a journal of the plague year [latter August reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2020 by xi'an

Read during the first week of our Alpine vacations a Japanese gore novel by Natsuo Kirino, Out, which I found in the book exchange zone at Dauphine earlier in July. The book is more impressive for a social criticism of the condition of working class women the Japanese society than for its psychological thriller nature, even though the later is well-enough conducted to induce a page-turning commitment… The four women at the centre of the story are drawn in fine and convincing details and the practical cynicism of most of them makes the novel avoid the easy and rosy idealisation of a crime sisterhood. The slow unraveling of the past of these women exhibits how they ended up in a food-packaging night-shift job by virtue (!) of a gender inequality inherent to the social structure. The book is not 100% perfect, especially in the final moments, even though the surprising readiness of Masako to turn herself (almost) into a victim is much more subtle than it sounds (spoiler!). Still a major novel, if one can manage to stand the gory details..!

Had another chance great meal in a Michelin-recommended restaurant in Briançon, Au Plaisir Ambré, with a surprising sea-food theme including Granville whelks tartare, lobster samosas and grayling en croûte (except the crust was not salt but brioche!), the later with the distinctive taste of river fish. The more pleasant as an earlier experience at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris was not so exciting, with a risotto smothered by Gruyère!, a culinary lèse-majesty! Also tasted wonderful tartes aux noix made by the housekeeper of one of our vacation rentals. Rich enough for a whole day of hiking.

Read the Raven Tower by Ann Leckie, of which I expected much and which I alas found quite poor (compared with the fabulous Ancillary series). Maybe because I found too many connections with the stunning Ka, which takes the raven’s perspective on human history. Maybe because the Raven is the bad guy/god in this story. Even taking the story as a theatre play (as it builds on Hamlet) did not really work for me. The few characters are not sufficiently deep, the interaction between gods and humans is rather simplistic (although the world-building shows promises) and the conclusion is botched in my opinion. The style is original and the book well-written, however. Plus the book is short and single-volumed! (But I do not get the rave reviews!)