There won't be much trick-or-treating this year, as the pandemic is going through a resurgence, so who wants all those little hands in the candy bowls? However, many of our neighbors are decorating their homes and gardens with wonderful imaginative Halloween figures. A few ghosts:
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Monday, October 19, 2020
“The Good Samaritan was a Bad Economist” (Hard Times, p. 204)
Dickens as always creates characters and situations that exhibit extreme individuality to the point of caricature, including rather satiric names such as Mr. Gradgrind the merchant-become-politician or Mrs. Sparsit, a busy-body spinster of reduced funds, or Mr. McChoakumchild, a schoolmaster. These characters are highly typical of their social classes, highly susceptible to pretensions of various kinds about their place in society, and subject to the extremes of belief, fanaticism, and lack of empathy to others. They could just as well be types to exemplify our own society — especially the banker! There’s not a chance that I could feel any sense of escape from our current reality by reading this book.
I don’t want to belabor the points of similarity between these characters and the miserable specimens that populate our own news feed these days, but I’ll just quote a conversation between Mr. Bounderby, the banker, and Mr. Harthouse, a visitor who has just arrived in Coketown:
"‘Coketown, sir,’ said Bounderby, obstinately taking a chair, ‘is not the kind of place you have been accustomed to. Therefore, if you will allow me—or whether you will or not, for I am a plain man—I’ll tell you something about it before we go any further.’
"Mr. Harthouse would be charmed.
"‘Don’t be too sure of that,’ said Bounderby. ‘I don’t promise it. First of all, you see our smoke. That’s meat and drink to us. It’s the healthiest thing in the world in all respects, and particularly for the lungs. If you are one of those who want us to consume it, I differ from you. We are not going to wear the bottoms of our boilers out any faster than we wear ’em out now, for all the humbugging sentiment in Great Britain and Ireland.’
"By way of ‘going in’ to the fullest extent, Mr. Harthouse rejoined, ‘Mr. Bounderby, I assure you I am entirely and completely of your way of thinking. On conviction.’
"‘I am glad to hear it,’ said Bounderby. ‘Now, you have heard a lot of talk about the work in our mills, no doubt. You have? Very good. I’ll state the fact of it to you. It’s the pleasantest work there is, and it’s the lightest work there is, and it’s the best-paid work there is. More than that, we couldn’t improve the mills themselves, unless we laid down Turkey carpets on the floors. Which we’re not a-going to do.’
"‘Mr. Bounderby, perfectly right.’
‘Lastly,’ said Bounderby, ‘as to our Hands. There’s not a Hand in this town, sir, man, woman, or child, but has one ultimate object in life. That object is, to be fed on turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon. Now, they’re not a-going—none of ’em—ever to be fed on turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon. And now you know the place.’" (p. 122)
As I read this, I felt as if Mr. Bounderby would be perfectly at home in certain circles of our society, who feel that workers are treated very well -- too well -- and that they only want to lead a good life, a life that should be reserved for bankers and for the upper classes. The only thing that's changed is that the banker wouldn't mention turtle soup and venison.
Hard Times has wonderful characters, a dramatic plot, and plenty of action, and it's also a morality tale. A tale for their time but unfortunately, the tensions, injustices, the self-satisfied successful men, the victimized women, and the few honest people are just the same now as they ever were. The bankers will always be with us.
Blog post © 2020 mae sander.
Sunday, October 18, 2020
|A famous tea party: Alice with the March Hare, the Dormouse, and the Mad Hatter. (Wikipedia)|
|Alice is also well remembered for finding a tiny bottle labeled|
"DRINK ME" -- and drinking it! (Wikipedia)
It was all very well to say “Drink me,” but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry. “No, I’ll look first,” she said, “and see whether it’s marked ‘poison’ or not”; for she had read several nice little histories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked “poison,” it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.
However, this bottle was not marked “poison,” so Alice ventured to taste it, and finding it very nice, (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast,) she very soon finished it off....
“What a curious feeling!” said Alice; “I must be shutting up like a telescope.”
And so it was indeed: she was now only ten inches high, and her face brightened up at the thought that she was now the right size for going through the little door into that lovely garden. (source)
|In a shop window near the campus: a Lego Michigan Stadium -- "The Big House."|
The real stadium has been idle so far this fall, but maybe not for much longer.
|Strangely painted pedestrian control flags.|
The street pavement is painted as well, but the number
of people passing by is far less than usual.
|Also near campus: a decorated utility box.|
|A mushroom in the woods.|
|Fall irises in my neighbor's garden, along with still-colorful flowers and also autumn leaves..|
Friday, October 16, 2020
Thursday, October 15, 2020
|Cellophane noodle soup with cherry tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, and fried onions.|
Recipe from Asian Noodles: 86 Classic Recipes from Vietnam, Thailand, China, Korea, and Japan by Maki Watenabe.
|Fried onions for the soup.|
|New-Orleans flavored soup with okra and tomatoes.|
Wild-caught gulf shrimp: to be added at the last minute.
|A bowl of shrimp and okra soup.|
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
|The Three Penny Opera, 1931, sung in German.|
Striking how wooden the acting was, even the famous Lotte Lenya!
|The 2020 Great British Baking Show, new episode each Friday, pretty much like all the rest.|
|Endeavor: still more cases of Inspector Morse. We have been watching|
the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Very entertaining!
|Arkady Renko the Moscow detective|
must be in his seventies by now but
Martin Cruz Smith keeps him going.
A disappointing sequel.
Monday, October 12, 2020
Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri, translated from the Japanese by Morgan Giles, is currently a finalist for the National Book Awards in the category translated fiction. The announcement of the finalists was the first I have heard of this author, and I'm very glad to have learned about her and to have read this work.
"The only thing I was guilty of was being unable to adjust. I could adapt to any kind of work; it was life itself that I could not adjust to. The pain of life, the sadness . . . and the joy . . ." (p. 164).
Kazu's main connection to his country and society is the fact that he was born the same year as the Emperor, and that his son was born the same day as the son and heir of the Emperor. However, this isn't enough to give serious meaning to the life he led. Extreme poverty in the village where he was born forced him to leave his wife, who thus raised their children alone: he hardly knew them. He found work as a laborer in Tokyo, far from his family, and lived in hostels and eventually on the street while sending what money he could to them.
Tokyo Ueno Station is a very personal story. It's also a commentary on the way that Japanese society treats its less capable and fortunate members. In a way, it's also an assessment of the human condition. Kind of existential: please pardon me for the cliché! It does all these things with great intensity and impressive skill.
Throughout the narrative, Kazu overhears people talking, and observes brief moments from their lives as he wanders, unnoticed and not really connected to them. Most of this takes place in Ueno Park where he lived for a time in a homeless encampment, and in various railroad stations, Ueno station in particular. He also describes his fellow homeless people who came from all strata of society, for example, the businessmen: "They were like husks, still wearing suits." (p. 84).
Kazu's alienation from people is underscored by a very interesting way the author presents his stream-of-consciousness: Kazu quotes overheard conversations -- very often about food -- as he sort of floats around in the crowded streets and in the park. Here are some abbreviated examples:
“You know that beef-stew place over there? I went a while back, and they weren’t open.” “They close on Tuesdays, you know.” “We should go sometime for their ‘lightweight’ breakfast special.” (p. 132).
“The other day she took me to this eel place.” “Oh, no, no, eels are out, they’re going extinct, you know. You can’t eat them very often. They’re endangered, and the catch of the young ones is getting smaller every year, so if we don’t let some of the grown eels live, the whole species will die out. I’m not joking.” ... “We both got rice with one grilled eel fillet on top. And without even asking, she sticks her chopsticks in my bowl and takes half my eel. She said one fillet just wasn’t enough for her. Meanwhile I’m left with all this rice and nothing to eat it with, so what else can I do? So there I am, eating rice seasoned with Sichuan pepper. In an eel place.” (p. 94).
“When I go to her place, chances are she’ll make burgers.” “Really?” “Anyway, she’s always snacking on something— chocolates or sweets.” “They say you really shouldn’t overdo it with chocolate.”...“She’s crazy about marshmallows.” “I can’t eat marshmallows, they stick to my teeth. Honestly, these days I’m turning into an old man. Just give me some dried sardines, you know, the kind some bartenders put out. I eat them like crazy, like they’re candy.” (p. 95-96).
“I’m hungry, Mama.” “You want some of this?” “Don’t want it.” “Well, then Mama’s gonna eat it all.” “No, Mama, don’t!” (p. 9).
|From my visit to Tokyo, December, 2011: a scene near Ueno Park|
at a pond often mentioned in the novel.
Kazu describes his experiences of homelessness in painful detail, for example, near the end of the book he writes:
"Since I became homeless, my only interest in ginkgoes was the fruit. Wearing plastic gloves, I picked them up one by one and put them in a plastic bag. When it was full, I took them to the water fountain and washed off the part of the skin that stank. Then I would spread them out on a newspaper to dry before taking them to Ameyoko Market, where I could get seven hundred yen a kilo for them.
"My vision was filled with yellow leaves, whirling in the cold winter wind. The turning of the seasons no longer had anything to do with me— but still, I didn’t want to take my eyes away from that yellow, which seemed to me like a messenger of light. The chirp of the signal for the visually impaired was what made me realize that the light had turned green." (pp. 172-173).
I'm finding it difficult to do justice to this unusual novel, but I think it's very much worth reading!
Blog post and original photo © 2020 mae sander.
Sunday, October 11, 2020
On a beautiful day we paid a visit the Dexter Cider Mill.
|The Dexter Cider Mill, now open for its annual cider making and|
sales of home-made donuts, cider, and other autumn treats.
Dexter, Michigan, is a half-hour's drive from our house in Ann Arbor.
|We bought half-a-gallon of cider to take home.|
|We ate our donuts at the cider mill, sitting on a bench |
not near other people.
|"Social Distance" sign.|
|Tables beside the river in back of the Cider Mill.|
The Dexter Cider Mill, longest-running cider mill in Michigan, was founded in 1886 by the VanNatter Family. From 1900 to 1986, it was owned and operated by the Otto Wagner family. The current owners, Nancy & Marty Steinhauer and their parents have owned and operated the cider mill since 1986. (source)
|A few miles from the cider mill: a little lake that seems to have no name.|
Another beautiful day: cider and other treats outdoors in our back yard.
|Cider, apples, and pineapple upside-down cake|
protected by fly screens.
|Len's apple bread: flavored with cider and apples |
from the cider mill.
|We were celebrating our friend Abby's birthday with this backyard supper.|
Cider is the symbol of autumn, at least here in Michigan where we have many apple orchards and traditional cider mills. The Dexter Cider Mill is right on the river. Long ago, it may have used water power, though it no longer has a water wheel or a mill race on the site. I suspect that this very popular seasonal attraction is dangerously crowded on weekends, but we chose a Thursday afternoon, when very few people were present. All seemed quite safe.