Monday, August 30, 2004

Visitors From Japan

Tak and Chiaki, our newlywed visitors from Japan are charming together, so interested in each other. Tak is the cousin of Joel's cousin--that is, my sister's husband's nephew. Chiaki is from Shikoku Island, and is working on a Ph.D. in vocal music! Specializing in Japanese "classical:" composers like Yamada, Taki, Nakata, and Takemitsu. She has lovely skin, and Tak is so slim now (he was chubby when we first met him when he was a high school exchange students). He has a confident, pleasant face and strong deep voice. She laughs and covers her mouth just a little, Japanese style, not nearly as much as older Japanese women. Her English has limited vocabulary, but she nods as if she understands everything, although I think much of it is good acting. However, when she does speak– in answer to a question, she speaks with an excellent accent. Is this because she is trained singer to whom sounds come with manifold distinctions, more than the rest of us hear? She seems very happy and cheerful, and together they are– I feel so old saying this!– so cute!
They brought us gifts from Japan, and from Takeshi's mother a lovely bag designed by a famous Japanese writer named Uno Chiyo who I've now looked up, and ordered a book by. "Most famous Japanese woman writer of the twentieth century."

Saturday, August 28, 2004

August 28, 2004

I'm losing drafts. I don't know where stuff goes on this.

Well, it's hot as the dickens, damp hot, sunny hot. The summer we didn't have, and now we are waiting to hear from Takeshi Achiwa and his bride Chiaki from Japan who are arriving-- to visit New York in the middle of the Republican National Convention and the giant demonstrations planned for today tomorrow and who knows what else. Not to mention Fear of Terrorism, changed train schedules, and more.

It's gotten hot at last-- so damp nothing dries, but also sunny, so you really feel it. Takeshi and Chiaki theoretically are now on a van coming from JFK airport to Newark where they will call us and we'll go pick them up. I'm so sorry the weather is like this, also worried because they want to go to New York City.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Back from West Virginia

My college sophomore son Joel and I are back from West Virginia, which is always a big adjustment, both ways: staying with my parents, going to church at the solidly middle class First Baptist Church of Shinnston, WV. It is always an interesting experience, being around people who approach life differently from me: one of my mother's friends who is going to vote for George W. Bush because she thinks he is a more sincere Christian than John Kerry! In fact, of course, people are mostly interested in their own business, like most of us, I guess-- their sons in Iraq, their diseases, aches and pains. Their political energies are used at work, in their churches, which some people pick and choose based on, for example, whether a church's music is stodgy and slow or lively Christian rock. It's a big world out there.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

At the Met

Yesterday I was in New York to get my NYU ID and went to the Met where I saw a big exhibition of Childe Hassam, and liked some of his things a lot– the snowy and rainy street scenes in NYC and Boston best, actually, and also his Barbizon-style blocky dark countrysides.
But I am feeling tired of the art of the wealthy–I understand that in as far as art is a luxury, there has to be added value in someone’s economy or bankbook to support it-- thus the Church in the Middle Ages, thus people wealthy enough to buy the paintings of an entrepreneurial artist like Hassam in the Gilded Age. Hassam was explicitly avoiding poor people in his later work.
But, exciting and new-to-me was was the photography of August Sander’s huge project of indexing German people. All those face on people in the brown prints. A group called “People who came to my door” included a beggar, a peddler, and a bailiff! Also revolutionaries and the odd Nazi. What an amazing collection. I bought 6 or 7 postcards as samples, butit was the sheer mass of art work as well as the individual portraits that got to me.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Quick and Indian

I love to cook when the cooking is (1) quick and (b) tasty. One of my favorites is to put rice in the rice maker and open a can of "simmer sauces" from Jyoti. You just sautee some onion, chicken or whatever protein you like, whatever vegetables are from the garden (I had a zuke, some pole beans, a little garlic, tomato tonight, but it's just as good with a handful of spinach or mixed greens and some chunks of old tomatoes from the freezer) add the can of sauce and heat for up to a half hour, then serve over rice with whatever condiments you like. Tonight I also made a cucumber raita with cucumber, yoghurt, garlic and mint. Joyti usually has some specials at their website.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Gloomy With Rain, Again

We've got a couple more days of it, too. Gray, damp, and gloomy.

I finished reading Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, which I had picked up in Great Barrington at the Yellow House used book store in the movie tie-in paperback version with the kid actor's face on the cover. I was looking for something gripping to read for vacation, and I had put this one off for a long time, as I always do with best sellers out of reverse snobbishness ("Oh no, I'm not reading the popular best-seller, I'm reading this 18th century pre-cursor to Jane Austen's domestic dramas....")

Not that I ever begrudged Frank McCourt his success: a life long high school English teacher who I may actually have met when I did a Teachers & Writers Collaborative job in the late seventies at Stuyvesant High School. Also, a little earlier, when I was working with Phillip Lopate and the others at P.S. 75 (also through T&W), Malachy McCourt the actor (and next younger brother of Frank) lived in the neighborhood, and we taught his kids, I think.

As to the book-- it was very good, although in the end a comedy in the classical sense of having a happy ending in spite of the extraordinary poverty, detailed with great gusto, and the runaway drunken dad, and the little dead siblings and others. It's told with highly appropriate energy-- that biological optimism of children again-- and with linked anecdotes and tales, structured well and naturally by little Frankie's chronological age, quintessential experiences, and lovely insights and misunderstandings, always right on target agewise and usually highly entertaining to read.

In the end, it is an oddly light book-- or perhaps only told with a light touch. I have this feeling that reviewers and book club people may have mistaken it for a profound and tragic book that wasn't painful to read. Am I being snobbish again? There are infinitely painful moments -- hunger, humiliation, misunderstandings, and disappointments galore-- but there is that determined bouncing back that somehow makes all of us who have survived whatever small setbacks in our own lives seem enhanced by little Frankie's survival.

Well, I liked the book.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

August 14

This is a dreary day, damp and greasy and building up to some big rain tonight. I did get the front grass cut, and a little weeding, but mostly I'm doing office work. There's something about day after day of damp, heavy, gray weather that takes the starch out of me.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Rainy With Toothache

It's gray with rain and thunderstorms planned for today-- "grainy," I used to call it, back when I was into inventing words. I had a big bout with the dentist yesterday and feel pretty beat up about it. My summer vacation, it appears, will be full of check-ups and dentist's chairs. Sigh.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Too Much Dinner at Caribbean Cuisine

We had a great dinner at South Orange's new Caribbean Cuisine Restaurant. It's Trinidad-Tobago style, which means, said the helpful friendly waitress (probably an owner-family member), that it has a lot of Indian influence-- curries, roti, etc. But great platanos maduros came as a side, and you choose your rice (spinach rice with a touch of dried cod; red beans and rice; peas and rice) and then pick a meat or fish to go with it. We got tastes, too-- a great thick lentil soup with interesting spices, maybe pumpkin too, a taste of yucca pone for dessert (like a wet zucchini bread, my husband said), their homemade ginger beer. Totally stuffed now.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Back from Vacation

Back from a wedding in Williamsport, PA, where we stayed at the fabulous Genetti Hotel, which really was a nice old fashioned hotel (our room was the Jackie Gleason room!), even though it was wildly noisy with a regional convention of Narcotics Anonymous. I'm trying to figure out why being a recovering addict means that you embrace your friends for long hugs (okay, that I understand), then step back ten paces and SHOUT at each other. Yes, dozens of people in the lobby and in front, SHOUTING happily at one another.

The lake was great this year-- fewer mosquito bites because of the very cold weather, I expect, and with the new roof, knock on wood, no bats.

Got back a few hours ago, and I've been happily doing the wash (sheets and towels from the lake) and freezing beans, making sauce, variously using up garden stuff.