Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The End of This Blog

I'm still blogging at ...

Black Raku Tea Bowl, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, from our visit there last month.
I'll be continuing to write about many interests including Japanese art and literature, international food, and travel.

I started this blog in April, 2006, when I was about to leave for a month in Israel. On a previous stay in Israel, I had recorded my impressions in a series of emails, which I collected later, and I realized that a blog would be a better way to let friends share my experiences.

Later that summer, I decided to separate my blogging activity into specialized streams: particularly, to separate food posts. Thus I began my food blog. Now I intend to re-integrate all my blogging into a single stream: my food blog. In 2016, I'll include posts about travel, wildlife, and reading there even if they aren't about food.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Favorite Poetry

In today's New York Times Book Review: "What's your favorite poem?" Responses to the question are from a number of well-known writers.

I'm not much of a poetry reader, but several of the poems listed are also among my favorites. Here are some of the beloved poems from the article, and my own memories of them:

TA-NEHISI COATES: Robert Hayden’s “Middle Passage.” I reread this poem just now. It's an incredibly powerful evocation of what it would have been like to be a captured slave on a slave ship in the Middle Passage from Africa to the new world. The poet Robert Hayden was a neighbor of ours for a few years in the 1970s and I remember greeting him as he walked his dog named Sadie. This adds to my appreciation of the poem.

ALAN CUMMING: Yeats’s “Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.” Another that I remember loving a long time ago when I took a course about William Butler Yeats.

KATIE COURIC: John McCrae's “In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row” is her favorite, and she also mentions a poem I often recited when I was a child: “The Swing,” by Robert Louis Stevenson.

MO WILLEMS: Dr. Seuss’s “Hop on Pop.” What a great choice. What parent or grandparent doesn't love to remember reading this to small children and then seeing them learn to read it for themselves!

I suspect that you might find some of your favorites in this engaging list!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Saturday, December 12, 2015

"Ungifted" by Gordon Korman

My book club is going to discuss Ungifted by Gordon Korman. Though we are all adults, we're reading a YA book, so I have written some questions that seem usable by an adult discussion group. I enjoyed the book and found it very amusing. though somehow the questions seem rather serious.

1.         Since we’ll get around to it eventually anyway, who wants to tell a story of their own Middle School/Jr. High experiences?

2.         Alice who is 12 and liked the book suggested two discussion questions about Donovan Curtis, the central character:

     A.          If he would stay at the gifted school would it be good or bad for him?
     B.           Why did Donovan’s sister feel so comfortable with the gifted kids?

3.         Donovan’s perceptions of the differences between the schools are a key element of the book. Sort of typical, a passage written by Donovan:

“Classes at my new old school weren’t better, exactly, but at least I understood what was going on. I’d been faking it for so long at the Academy that it was startling to suddenly know actual answers. I even raised my hand a few times in math, until Sanderson bounced a spitball off my skull and hissed, ‘Dude— this isn’t the Academy!’

“And I couldn’t help thinking, No, it sure isn’t. You can see it in the paint  job, and taste it in the bad cafeteria food. You can hear it in the dead air that hangs in the classroom when the teacher asks a question. You can smell it in the sweaty gym socks— so different from the synthetic-oil aroma of a set of Mecanum wheels.”  (p. 215).

A.         Do gifted kids in our society really get treated better to the extent that the book implies?

B.         In this and many other passages when Donovan describes the situation at the school, the relationships between the teachers and students, the attitudes and social pressures among the kids, and much more, he’s incredibly perceptive and his observations are amazing. Is this convincing? Is he a believable observer?

4.         Did you find the portrayals of the kids/teachers/administrators excessively stereotyped? Is there balance between the predicted behavior of  the “gifted” and the “ungifted” and their self-awareness as revealed in their alternating narratives?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Mysterious Maps

botanical-garden 1
Here's a perfectly nice map of the Matthaei Botanical Garden near the point where you enter the woods.
Note that West (Dixboro Road) is at the top.
botanical-garden 2
After you have walked for a while, you find another map. They must want to mess with your head --
this map is reversed from the first one. You can see that West/Dixboro Road is at the bottom.
We had a very nice walk in the gardens again on a beautiful morning this week. I just wonder who designed those maps!

botanical-garden 3

Sunday, November 08, 2015

A Quiet Botanical Garden

In the woods at Matthaei Botanical Gardens this afternoon it was very quiet. The fall colors have become very subdued.
Only a few other people were walking in the woods.
Inside the greenhouse. 

Insect-eating plants seemed to be waiting eagerly for prey. 
I always love the indoor goldfish pond.
On the way home we stopped to watch the swans on the river in the very late afternoon sun.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Roger the Owl

roger_the_owl 2 Len's photo of a screech owl named Roger, from this morning. This link to Flickr allows you to see all his recent nature photos.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Trip East, 2015

Longwood Gardens

We recently traveled to Fairfax, Cape May, Philadelphia, and Lancaster, PA. One highlight was visiting Longwood Gardens with Arny and Tracy, as documented on Flickr. Here's a photo from Longwood: Tracy taking a photo, Arny looking around, and Lenny looking towards the camera:

longwood-gardens 18

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Lighthouses, Birds, Beaches

Bald Eagle on the beach at Cape May.

Heron fishing at Lake Lily near the lighthouse.
Lake Lily, gallinule
From the Ferry between Delaware and Cape May, New Jersey. 

Cape May lighthouse, early morning light.
Cape May lighthouse, full afternoon sun. 
Lighthouse at sunset from the Nature Conservancy preserve.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Birders, butterflies, and boats

Sunset on the first of our several guided birdwalks in Cape May, NJ.
It's the season for bird migration here, and therefore birder season.
Yesterday I posted a few photos of our visit here. This post adds a few more.
Birders heading home at sunset. 
Early morning: looking for a rare Bell's Vireo. The bushes were swarming with little birds that had been flying over
the water at dawn, and then came in to wait for another night of migration. Around 50 birders were watching the birds.
More than 100 were watching for hawks and eagles overhead at the Hawkwatch Tower around 4 miles from this location.
Near the Hawkwatch platform:
A non-native black swan. Someone brought it from Australia or New Zealand,
it got away, and no one knows who let it go. 
Monarch butterflies are also in migration. Like the birds they fly down the New Jersey peninsula and then wait for
a good moment to start across the water and continue flying south. 
Tree swallows in large numbers were circling around and also resting on the beach and on fences yesterday before continuing their flight.
On the beach.
The "Osprey" -- the birdwatching cruise boat that we took yesterday.

This is also posted at!

Saturday, October 03, 2015

"Murder at Mt. Fuji"

"Murder at Mt. Fuji" by Shizuko Natsuki is an extremely well-plotted detective story with a surprise ending. If you think about that statement, it will become obvious that spoilers would be required in any discussion about how the author creates one impression after another in the mind of the reader, only to reveal new plot twists, new clues, new relationships, and new motives.

Let's just say that the first 75 pages provide a detailed description of murder and cover-up at the mountain home of a very wealthy Japanese family where they are spending their New Year holiday. The role of one westerner, a student of Japanese literature visiting the family, provides a way for the Japanese author to explain some of the customs and family dynamics. And you, reader, think you know everything -- at first.

The police come and go as they investigate clues in this typical country house mystery atmosphere. Western-style mystery details combine quite interestingly with Japanese family, business, police-suspect-victim, and master-servant relationships. And in the background, day and night, seen through every window of the beautiful villa, is Mt. Fuji, looming alternately over severe winter storms and gentle winter sunshine.

A fun read!

Monday, September 28, 2015

A World of Detective Fiction

I love to read detective fiction, and I've been looking recently for good lists of writers that I haven't read yet. One theme I love is food in detective fiction, which I've been exploring for years on my food blog. But I really love a good mystery story even if the detective never stops for a single snack.

Today I discovered a web page dedicated to detective fiction. It's enormous in scope, and was entirely written by G.J. Demko (1933-2014), "a professor at Dartmouth College and a devotee of the mystery genre." Demko was "especially interested in the settings of mysteries - the geography or the locus operandi - of crime fiction." His essays on mystery stories set in many foreign lands are incredible! (I'm really late to this party! But I plan to catch up.)

Introductory image of G.J. Demko's blog: to enter go here.
I've been thinking about reading more Japanese literature for the year long Japanese Literature Challenge. Demko's discussion of the history of Japanese detective fiction offers me a wonderful set of possibilities! Here are some of them:
"Another early writer, Seishi Yokomizo, wrote a number of mysteries with ghostly themes (a not uncommon characteristic of Japanese popular literature in general) including Murders at the Inn, Honjin in 1947 and The Village of Eight Tombs in 1950. The most remarkable and popular writer of the early post-war years, however, was Seicho Matsumoto, a very talented master of the puzzle type mystery. He was also very sensitive to settings and excellent at character development. He is credited with elevating the mystery out of the haunted house and away from the grotesque. His 1957 novel, Points and Lines (John Morton Publishers, London, 1979) starts with an ostensible double suicide that Matsumoto's detective, with great patience and persistence, finally proves is a double murder most heinous. Matsumoto's novel, Inspector Imanishi Investigates (Soho Press, N.Y., 1989) is my favorite in which a dogged and ordinary policeman tracks down a murderer by tracing the origin of a regional Japanese dialect. A collection of his short stories is also available in "The Voice and other Stories" (Kodansha International, Tokyo, 1995). Matsumoto's work provides a wonderful window on Japanese culture." (Mysteries in the Land of the Rising Sun, web page by Demko)
I've just bought Inspector Imanishi Investigates and plan to start reading today!

Monday, August 31, 2015

"Dora Bruder" by Patrick Modiano

View of the accommodation block at Drancy with French gendarme on guard
-- from Wikipedia article "Drancy internment camp."
Memory and forgetting are the topics of the book Dora Bruder by recent Nobelist Patrick Modiano. Dora Bruder, born in 1926, ran away and disappeared from her Catholic school, disappeared from her family, disappeared finally into transit camps in France and then into the Holocaust, eventually disappeared from the memories of possible schoolmates, of possible teachers, of anyone possible at all. 

Years after the war ended, Modiano had seen a Paris newspaper ad from 1941 asking for news of Dora. She had run away from her school; he became curious and over a period of years, he tried to find out about her life as a Jewish child, a French citizen, daughter of an Austrian-Jewish man and a Hungarian-Jewish woman living legally in a hotel on a particular street in Paris. He searched for information about her life as a runaway or about her life as a child perhaps being hidden by nuns in a Catholic school. He searched for people that had known her, but finds only people whose experiences were simultaneous and parallel.

As Modiano searched, we learn from the book, he visited the streets where she lived and walked, streets already familiar to him because he'd lived his life in the same neighborhood. Exact locations in Paris are so important that one needs Paris street maps. Two small maps, along with a few photos of Dora, illustrate the book.

Modiano, who was born in 1945, writes of his own life -- in safer times -- as he writes about his effort to reconstruct the life of Dora Bruder. She's gone, he finds: disappeared. Of course the idea is that a vast community of lives were not only lost, but their memories completely erased; vast numbers of people disappeared as did this one in particular. 

In writing, Modiano manages to make this point with discretion and subtlety, without being melodramatic. He matter-of-factly describes his search for information about Dora and where she had run to, and where she ended up. He forces the reader to ask the hard questions.

Here's an example. Modiano describes a film, a trivial film, titled Premier rendez-vous that showed in Paris in 1941: "a harmless comedy." He had seen the film decades later. Had Dora seen it? He wondered. The film seemed to have a "peculiar luminosity... Every image seemed veiled in an arctic whiteness that accentuated the contrasts and sometimes obliterated them. The lighting was at once too bright and too dim, either stifling the voices or making their timbre louder, more disturbing." (p. 65)

Modiano speculated:
"Suddenly, I realized that this film was impregnated with the gaze of moviegoers from the time of the Occupation -- people from all walks of life, most of whom would not have survived the war.They had been taken out of themselves after having seen this film one Saturday night, their night out. While it lasted, you forgot the war and the menacing world outside. Huddled together in the dark of a cinema, you were caught up in the flow of images on the screen, and nothing more could happen to you. And by some kind of chemical process, this combined gaze had materially altered the actual film, the lighting, the voices of the actors. This is what I had sensed, thinking of Dora Bruder and faced with the ostemsibly trival images of Premier rendez-vous." (p. 66)
Obviously reading this book is an extremely painful experience, and obviously it must have been even more painful to write. With the world today full of refugees, full of death as they try to find anywhere that they can live, it's even more painful than when Modiano wrote it around 20 years ago. Painful. Impossible.

The last paragraph of the book:
"I shall never know how she spent her days, where she hid, in whose company she passed the winter months of her first escape, or the few weeks of spring when seh escaped for the second time. That is her secret. A poor and precious secret that not even the executioners, the decrees, the occupying authorities, the Depot, the barracks, the camps, History, time -- everything that defiles and destroys you -- have been able to take away from her." (p. 119)

Saturday, August 29, 2015

"The Wild Geese" by Ogai Mori

The Red Gate of Tokyo University, not far from the campus guest house where we stayed in 2011.
The Wild Geese, a short novel by Ogai Mori, takes place in locations near the medical campus of Tokyo University in 1880. The main character, Okada, a medical student, often takes walks around this campus. Thus there are references and sometimes descriptions of the local landmarks and neighborhoods.
"Okada had regular routes for his daily walks. He would go down the lonely slope caled Muenzaka and travel north along Shinobazu Pond. Then he would stroll up the hill in Ueno Park. Next he went down to Hirokoji ... he would go through the compound of Yushima Shrine...after passing the gloomy Karatachi Temple. ... There was another route. he occasionally entered the university campus by the exit used by the patients of the hospital attached to the medical school because the Iron Gate was closed early. Going through the Red Gate, he would proceed along Hongo-dori..." (p. 15)
A Shrine or Temple near Tokyo University Medical school, 2011.
My husband attended a conference on this campus in December, 2011. We stayed in a guest house owned by the medical school. As I read the story, my mind flooded with vague images from my own walks in that neighborhood. The old narrow streets, rickshaws, and various types of traditional houses have mainly disappeared, but my memories include an amazing number of city features from Mori's story.

One of the ponds on the way from the Tokyo University campus to Ueno Park.
While the medical student, Okada, is the central character of The Wild Geese in one sense, the majority of the story is background, a description of the life of a woman named Otama that Okada catches a glimpse of one day on a walk. Throughout most of the novel, the reader must hold the student and his interest in Otama in mind while learning about the woman, a kept mistress; about her father, a down-on-his-luck widower; about the usurer who buys Otama; about the way the usurer treats his wife; and to some extent the story of the students who borrow money from the usurer.

Finally, the story gets back to the relationship of Okada and Otama. I'm not going to tell how it ends, because that would spoil it if you decide to read it. I'll just say that it's a beautifully built-up story with a really interesting ending, and a very enjoyable read about Old Tokyo.

A traditional restaurant in Tokyo, 2011.
Ogai Mori (1862-1922) published The Wild Geese serially from 1911 to 1913. He had studied Western Medicine at the Tokyo University medical school, and had lived in Europe while continuing his studies. 

I was inspired to read this book by a blogging event titled "Japanese Literature Challenge 9."

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Art Fair 2015

Ibrahim, seller of West and Central African Art

Mr. B's always popular piano music, which travels on a special bicycle cart.