How the French Presidential Election of 2017Alleviated my Mild Nausea of the Last Five Months

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On May 3rd 2017, FBI Director James Comey testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding his improper behavior around the time of 2016 US Presidential Election. While defending his revelation of FBI’s re-investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails on Oct. 28 in his letter to the Congress, he said “It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election.” As one of the majority of voters who supported Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, I have been more than “mildly nauseous” about the last election. It seemed to reveal the unenlightened and ugly side of United States and many of its people. True, only 59.3 percent of eligible voters voted for president in 2016 (the overall turnout was 60.2 percent) according to FactCheck Org. But, certainly the election result is significant even when the result was of the gerrymandered political system and the winner was not supported by the majority votes. It suggests that a quite sizable number of Americans is reactionary as if the Enlightenment had never happened. So it was such a relief to learn that French overwhelmingly voted against the super-reactionary force represented by Marine Le Pen in the May 7 election. Instead, 66.1 percent of voters (with 75% turnout) voted for the very young novice Emmanuel Macron (39). For Macron governance will probably be an uphill battle and he may not be able to solve many problems facing today’s France immediately; but it seems many of the voters know that (only fools can believe that one person can do such a thing.) Once again, as Dutch people did in March this year, French people impress me with their collective intelligence.

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“Empire Noir,” “New Suite,” and “Her Door to the Sky”: PNB Director’s Choice Ballet Program

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A fortnight ago my husband and I went to the Seattle McCaw Hall to see the Pacific Northwest Ballet production of “Director’s Choice” program. It consisted of David Dawson’s “Empire Noir,” William Forsythe’s “New Suite” and Jessica Lang’s “Her Door to the Sky.” It was exhilarating to see these modern ballet pieces, each of which maintained its distinct mood and philosophy. While “Empire Noir” was spellbinding in its formal rigor and purity, akin to Mondrian’s abstract paintings, “New Suite” was lovely in many forms and movements of pas de deux as if showing varied manifestations of “romantic love.” Meanwhile, “Her Door to the Sky” excelled in its expression of sly humor. The staging and costume of all these pieces helped highlight the wonder and beauty of human bodies and movements. All these dance pieces were wonderful, but I would say “Empire Noir” to me was most electrifying and intellectually invigorating. Last time I felt this kind of exhilaration was when I saw Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” for the first time on stage. (I know that human memory is often unreliable. I may have felt this unusual exhilaration only because our social and political context has been dismal – to say the least.)

Resilience of Cherry Blossoms in Spring Gusts

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I felt happy and comforted when our cherry tree blossomed after incessant rainy days here in the Pacific Northwest. True, this region is known for rainy days. But, this winter has been almost unbearably wet and sunless even for this area. (In addition, the almost unhinged U.S. political situations resulting from the last election exacerbated the sunless condition brought about by nature.) So I was delighted when I unexpectedly spotted pinks on the treetops as I drove along the streets in late March. Then, suddenly in early April our cherry tree began to blossom gradually when sun showed its face for an extended time (of two days). It made me happy. Yet, I felt a vague sense of sadness because the extended weather forecast told us rain would come back. This sadness is, of course, the sense of transience (what Japanese calls “mujo” or “hakanasa”). I was resigned to the foreseeable future of a cherry tree surrounded by myriad of pale pink cherry blossom petals on the wet ground. Then, gusty winds came. The wind danced like a crazed spirit outside. Some tree branches were knocked down. So I was surprised and very touched when I opened our front door to find the cherry blossoms still hanging onto their lives. This made me realize that there is no such a thing as “fate” or “destiny.” Cherry blossoms, which are symbolic for transience, can be resilient even when sturdier-looking trees lose their grounds.

Tom Ford’s Film “Nocturnal Animals” – A Metaphor for the Current US Political Situation?

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I have been hoping against hope that the DT administration would turn out to be an unexpectedly decent one. But, of course such a hope was unrealistic from the beginning. People cannot change all of a sudden. After all, a person is always partially what he has been and partially what he wills to become even according to Sartre’s existentialist philosophy. The world has been dark and anxiety-provoking these last few months; even the proverbial symbol of liberty, the Statue of Liberty, went dark on March 7 and 8. So many madmen are in the positions of power. Is there a decent future for humanity?

Recently my husband and I watched Tom Ford’s film “Nocturnal Animals” at home. (Since we had acquired a 3-month-old puppy a few weeks ago we, try to spend more time at home. Life has been a little chaotic these days not only in society at large but also in my own private life after we included a puppy in our family. Having a young puppy is a little like having a baby: a lot of time and attention is needed to take care of a puppy.)

To change the subject back to Tom Ford’s film, I would say the film was gripping from the very beginning to the end in an unsettling manner.

The credit title back of slow-motion shots of naked, dancing, morbidly obese women, which probably represents the trend of the contemporary art world – that is cruelty and trashiness perversely manipulated into “art” forms – were grotesque as well as fascinating. Obviously, the dancing show is part of a performance art sponsored by an upscale art gallery, whose owner/ manager is the main character of this film, Susan. The sterile and stark art gallery structure as well as her immaculate residence emphasizes her character as icy and lacking human warmth. She is elegant and sophisticated but not sympathetic even when her current handsome and sophisticated husband is revealed to be engaged in infidelity. She seems to know that their marriage is collapsing. But, neither she nor her husband seems to care to rectify it. Then she receives a package from her ex-husband Tony. It contains a novel written by Tony, who was an aspiring novelist when Susan and Tony were married.

The film’s title “Nocturnal Animals” refers to the title of a disturbing horror fiction written by Tony. The manuscript is dedicated to Susan. Intrigued, Susan starts reading the novel, which is subsequently played out as a live-action movie in the film. The double exposure of the frame narrative of the film, Susan’s own life, and the film within the film underscores the close connection between these apparently disparate narratives. The gut-wrenching horror fiction is actually a metaphor for a more refined story of the upper or upper-middle class people’s emotional cruelty.

Tony’s novel “Nocturnal Animals” begins with an upper-middle class family of three, the father/ husband, the mother/ wife, and their daughter, travelling in their Mercedes at night on a highway in West Texas. As if in a nightmare, they are driving in the pitch-black darkness with no other living creatures in sight. Suddenly two other cars of unknown origin materialize. And the decent middle-class family’s car becomes the target of violent attacks by a pack of men in one of the cars. The family is terrorized by the sadistic ruffians for an extended time, but finally they get forced to derail from the paved highway. This sequence of violence by means of erratic driving is terrifying partially because the weapon of choice is a quotidian object, a passenger car, and partially because it reminds some of us of the sequence of the birth of our current political situation. (I wonder how many people feel that US was violently attacked and derailed by a bunch of punks.)

Susan’s first husband Tony once called Susan “nocturnal animal” – though she is, on the surface, nothing like the low life creatures that attacked the decent fictional family. But, the trajectory of the frame narrative reveals that Susan’s emotional core is similar to the fictional sadistic human-shaped animals that sadistically killed the family in the novel “Nocturnal Animals.” The enigmatic ending suggests that Susan also experiences the emotional death that Tony actually experienced when Susan left him for a more moneyed bourgeois life.

The 21st Century Women

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It was moving and empowering to see so many women and some men participating in the “Women’s March” that took place in most major cities in the US as well as many big cities in the world on January 21, 2017, one day after the inauguration of the 45th president of the US. It showed women’s solidarity against many of the policies professed by Donald Trump, the newly inaugurated President of the United States, that are likely to exacerbate the social and environmental problems in the U.S. as well as in the world, such as accelerated climate change, racial injustice, violation of women’s rights and so on. It was estimated that 4.8 million people participated in this massive demonstration worldwide. According to the crowd scientists at Manchester Metropolitan University in Britain, almost 3 times as many people showed up for the women’s march compared with Trump’s inauguration at their peak time near the National Mall. This coordinated protest demonstration showed that women together with other women can resist social injustice. I hope that women will be able to use this empowering show of force to enact social and political change for the better (not merely change for the change’s sake) from this time on.

Trickle-Down Immorality

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On January 20th the current president-elect Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States. It seems that some politicians will be boycotting the inauguration while some people are planning protest rallies in some cities, including Washington DC. I’m not exactly sure if such protests are effective in influencing Trump’s conducts in any better way though I can’t help but think that Trump should heed these manifestations as occasions for him to grow into a person more suitable (for example, more thoughtful and responsible) to take such an important task as the president of the United States, currently the most powerful and influential country in the world. However, I don’t think such a transformation will occur any time soon. Even without Meryl Streep’s scolding of one of Trump’s highly problematical behaviors during the 2016 campaign during this year’s Golden Globe Award show (thank you, Ms. Streep!) most of us knew Trump’s behaviors were far below the standard of respectable conducts – only most of us could not imagine that such a dishonorable person would be elected as a president. Now I am wondering if the US will become a land of indecent, disrespectful, and deceitful people. Today, for instance, I heard somebody say that Trump appointee Crowley did not have to resign from her position as a senior director of strategic communications at the National Security Council for “plagiarizing passages in her PhD dissertation” and a book. I was shocked to hear this and asked if he was joking. No, he wasn’t. According to him, now that Trump is the president the standard of behaviors has changed. What in the past was unacceptable is now acceptable, beginning with the president’s conducts. Lying is permitted; tricking people/system for personal material gain is understandable; bullying is funny, etc., etc… I guess it is called “trickle-down immorality.” What a disturbing thought!

What to Do on a Golf Course in the Sub-Zero Temperature

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Four days have already passed after the year changed to 2017. Like most areas of the U.S. we, in the Pacific Northwest, have been experiencing the below-average, freezing temperature due to the familiar arctic blast. It’s been cold. Some people might say, “This cold spell is the evidence that the ‘global warming’ is a hoax.” But, is it really the case? The fact is that the polar bears as well as some communities in arctic area are now facing existential crises due to the disappearance of their usual habitats, that is, arctic ice, caused by the rising temperature. Indeed, the average temperature of the globe is definitely rising, according to NASA, Climatic Research Unit and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. People who believe that the global warming is a hoax are a little bit like the people who do not believe the heliocentric solar system because they do not personally experience the earth circling around the sun.

Looking out of the window on a sunny day, the baby-blue sky seems inviting me to get out of the house to play, for instance, golf. However, I know it would be too cold to play golf outside by just observing the frozen puddles on the driveway. So my husband and I decide not to play golf but, instead, to have a walk on the golf course.

It was delightful to have a brisk walk on the golf course on an invigoratingly crisp sunny afternoon. As we walked, I noticed the ground was slightly hard, making faint crackling noise at each step. In the sky, flocks of little birds (sparrows I think) moved from one tree to another for some obscure reason (to keep themselves warm?). By the end of the 9th hole I felt we had a better cardiovascular exercise than playing golf since we made continuous brisk strides rather than stopping frequently to hit the ball. Yet, playing golf is definitely much more fun.

Christmas in La La Land

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My husband and I visited our grown children in Los Angeles to spend Christmas since they could not make time to visit us in the “Evergreen State” (so called thanks to the rain enriched evergreen forests). Though Southern California is known for its dry weather, while we were there we had a day of torrential rain. Nevertheless, it was a great joy to spend the holiday time with our kids.

In order to make the most of our visit we first visited the Terranea Resort to play golf. Though the weather was not really cooperative we managed to play one round on the 9-hole course. The course and its surrounding was beautiful, and we enjoyed playing golf on the 3-par golf course.

Later, we moved up to northern LA to visit the Getty Villa Sculpture Museum (lovely and gorgeous) and LACMA to see the Picasso and Rivera Exhibit. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we spent very pleasant time with our children. It seems as if we had never spent so much time with them in such a short time. During this visit we also watched Woody Allen’s “Cafe Society,” (which was rather unpopular with our children) on Amazon, and Damien Chazelle’s musical “La La Land” in a nearby movie theater. Both “Cafe Society” and “La La Land” told variations of familiar story of ‘boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl.” However, the end results were quite different: while “La La Land” is a successful, soaring escapist crowd pleaser, “Cafe Society,” obviously, is not. The reason for this seems to me that while the creators of “La La Land” are very aware that the film is a total fantasy (as stressed in the initial musical scene of an LA traffic jam which sets the tone – compare this scene with the traffic jam scene from Godard’s “Weekend”), “Cafe Society,” replete with nostalgia, nevertheless lacks awareness of its being a fantasy. In addition, “La La Land,” whose musical scores reminded me of French filmmaker Jaques Demy’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “The Young Girls of Rochefort” rather than the music of “Singing in the Rain,” was blessed with terrific lead actors. I would not mind seeing “La La Land” again at all.

Museums in Ueno, Tokyo, and Kabukiza

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We spent the last few days of our Winter Japan Trip 2016 in Tokyo, visiting two museums and a Kabuki performance.

Ueno station area in Tokyo is note-worthy for its collection of museums and other cultural and educational spaces, such as a zoo and performance hall within “shita-machi” (“low city” where the lower-classes lived during the Tokugawa period). Unlike the museums in “yama-no-te” (‘hill-side” where the samurai-class lived during the Tokugawa period) the museums in Ueno seem to retain the down-to-earth atmosphere of by-gone eras. The establishment of art museums, such as the Tokyo National Museum and the National Museum of Western Art (designed by the renowned Swiss architect Le Corbusier), shows the Japanese government’s desire to educate its populace with its own national as well as international cultures. It is a fun place to visit if one happens to be in Tokyo, particularly in spring for its famed cherry blossoms.

This year we visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum to see the “Van Gogh and Gauguin: Reality and Imagination” exhibit, and the Ueno Royal Museum to see the Detroit Institute of Arts Exhibition. Both exhibits were rewarding in different ways (for instance, I was surprised to see Detroit owned so many excellent art works), but I wish I had more leisurely space and time to experience the art work.

The final night in Tokyo was spent in the “new” Kabukiza theater. (I did attend a performance with my older sister when it was just opened in 2012 after the renovation.) They offered 3 performances daily rather than 2 when the theater was in its original structure. We attended the night show of “Ninin Wankyu” and “Kyo Kanoko Musume Gonin Dojoji” featuring the celebrated “onnagata” (female impersonator) Bando Tamasaburo. As always, the theater was packed with people (mostly women), but the shows somewhat lacked the luster that characterized kabuki before the renovation. It may be due to the fact that the actors were overworked (3 shows a day!) or perhaps due to the absence of amazing performances by the 18th Nakamura Kanzaburo who passed away at a fairly young age shortly before the reopening of Kabukiza.

Hell Tour and Beppu Onsen in Oita Prefecture

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After Matsuyama on Shikoku Island we went to Beppu in Kyushu. We took a train from Matsuyama to Yawatahama and a ferry from Yawatahama Port to get to Beppu. The journey to get to Beppu was difficult because the infrastructure was not equipped for travelers with heavy luggage. For instance, we were supposed to walk up and down an overpass with heavy luggage at the small local station at Yawatahama. However, my husband just carried the heavy suitcases over the railroad after seeing the railroad employees walking on the railroad while I carried carry-on bags through the overpass bridge. Like the Yawatahama station the Yawatahama port was rather poorly equipped. It did not have an elevator that would have allowed the people with heavy luggage to transport their luggage more easily. My husband carried the heavy suitcase while a port worker helped us by carrying another one up to the ferry. The ferry itself was a bit strange too. Unlike the ferries between Uno, Okayama, and Naoshima it did not have couches (presumably); instead, it had square spaces where some people might sleep probably because most passengers were crossing the sea together with their cars. Since sitting on the floor (I guess it was carpeted) was an unattractive way to spend 2 and half-hours on a boat, I got 1st-class tickets which entitled us to a slightly more private space. Since very few people bought the 1st class tickets we could occupy the upper level lounge for ourselves except for occasional visits by a young family with a baby who seemed to be assigned to another 1st-class space. If I had known the transportation difficulties, I would have chosen another method to get to Beppu from Matsuyama or perhaps a different itinerary. Anyway, all’s well that ends well. So I call this a learning experience afforded by a misadventure.

Beppu is a traditional tour spot for Japanese because of its onsen, hot spring. We stayed at Umine, a hotel-ryokan that faces ocean beach with individual onsen hot bath tub that gets continuous natural hot spring water. It is a fairly small ryokan all of whose rooms seem to have ocean view. Our room which had a living room and onsen bath room facing the ocean beach was very nice. The hot spring in our bath tub was lukewarm on the first day and rather hot on the second day. (My husband interpreted this phenomenon as hot spring strength was weak on the first day. However, later I came to know that the hotel adjusted the temperature of hot spring because the spring water was too hot – presumably only Japanese like the bath water rather hot.) I would say the best way one can enjoy onsen bath soak is to book at an onsen hotel/ ryokan that has rooms with private onsen bath tubs particularly if one is a woman.

On the second day at Beppu we had a guided tour of 7 jigoku/ hells (actually boiling hot mineral spring) in Beppu. Jigokus are categorized according to their hot spring appearances. For instance, Umi-Jigoku (Sea Hell) is categorized as such due to its water color, blue, thanks to copper sulfate in the boiling hot water whereas Chinoike-Jigoku (Blood Pond Hell) is called so due its reddish water color coming from the acidic iron and magnesium in the clay ground. These were fun places to visit, but most spectacular was Tatsumaki-Jigoku (Tornado Hell), a super-hot geyser that erupts every half an hour or so. We saw the geyser spouting for more than 5 minutes. (When we arrived at this “hell” the hot water had already started its eruption.) I think it interesting that Japanese made “hells” a source of entertainment.