Yesterday I received a letter from the U. S. Postal Service. Since I had never received a letter from the Postal Service, I was intrigued by it. In the envelope I found a form letter that begins with “DEAR POSTAL CUSTOMER” and a check I wrote for my child as a birthday gift. The letter said “The enclosed was found loose in the mail or has been damaged in handling in the Postal Service (whichever is applicable to the enclosure)… When a Postal Office handles in excess of three million pieces of mail daily, it is imperative that mechanical methods be used to maintain production and ensure prompt delivery of the mails… Damage may occur if mail is insecurely enveloped or bulky contents are enclosed. When this occurs and our machinery is jammed, it often causes damage to other mail that was properly prepared…” I was very much annoyed by this. I personally took the birthday card in an envelope (that came with the card) in which I enclosed a check to a local post office. I asked a female clerk at the service counter if the mail would arrive by a certain day because I am sending a birthday card. The card was neither bulky nor insecurely enveloped (I used glue to seal it). Somebody suggested that the clerk opened the envelope thinking she could find a gift card in it. Unfortunately I think it a likely scenario. These days we occasionally receive letters addressed to somebody else, and this makes me think that somebody else may have received letters addressed to us. I am not exactly sure how to interpret these incidents, but certainly they make me question the efficacy and integrity of the U.S. Postal Service.
My husband, our older child and I attended Seattle Opera’s “An American Dream,” which was commissioned by the Seattle Opera as a “community engagement project” and premiered on August 21. We attended the second performance on August 23. Due to the horrible traffic my husband and I almost missed the opera.
“An American Dream” based on local experiences of WWII is a fictionalized story of a teenage Japanese American woman Setsuko whose family gets forced relocation from Bainbridge Island, and a young Jewish woman Eva married to an American veteran Jim who is anxious to call her parents from Europe. This chamber opera starts with Eva and Jim hoping to get a new farm house which belongs to Setsuko’s family. Jim is anxious to get the house at a fraction of its value due to the imminent relocation order for all people of Japanese descent. Setsuko hides her favorite doll representing the empress from the Hinamatsuri (a.k.a. Girls/Plum Festival) decorative doll set though she was told by her father to throw away everything that is connected to Japan and Japanese culture.
During the war, these two women’s lives are tangentially connected through the empress doll that Eva keeps and a letter from Germany that Setsuko keeps informing the deaths of Eva’s parents. And when the war ends the women finally meet and become somewhat united by their shared sadness caused by war.
I found the opera very interesting and a little unnerving. The atonal and unmelodious music was appropriate to express the helplessness felt by innocent people victimized by the behaviors of the ruling classes of societies, as well as the menacing atmosphere of wartime totalitarian governmental practices.
“Dissonance is the truth about harmony.” – Theodor Adorno
Recently I had an opportunity to see Joseph Losey’s acclaimed film Accident. (The film received the 1967 Grand Jury Prize at Cannes with the Yugoslavian film I Even Met Happy Gypsies.) I wanted to see the film since I was much impressed by The Servant, another film in which Losey collaborated with playwright Harold Pinter.
I found Accident more interesting than very Pinteresque The Servant due to its fastidiously realistic portrayal of the corruptibility of people who are usually considered as the moral paragons of society.
The film starts with the establishing shot of a spacious English house in the countryside. Then, suddenly the loud noise of car crash is heard. The shot of a dimly lit house informs the viewer that the film takes the form of realism. The man of the house comes out and walks to the rolled car. He knows the two people in the crashed car. Then the whole narrative turns to flashback, signaling that the narrative is presented from the man’s point of view.
The man, Stephen (played by Dirk Bogarde, an amazing thespian), turns out to be a philosophy professor at Oxford, and the victims are his students. The young man William is an aristocrat, who does not appear that bright; whereas the young woman Anna, engaged to William at the time of the deadly accident, is an Austrian “princess” who is presented in the film as an enigma, the embodiment of “otherness.” Stephen seems sexually titillated by Anna who occasionally appears to invite Stephen’s advance. Stephen, who has two young children, is married and his wife is currently pregnant with their third child. Their domesticity is portrayed in plain realism which, for instance, is represented by a close-up shot of a sooty, old kettle used for boiling water.
Soon it becomes clear that Stephen is frustrated not only sexually but also professionally when his more successful colleague Charlie shows up. The dialogue full of subdued competition and put-downs is nasty but realistic, evoking the uber-understated conflicts that ordinary people often get engaged in. Soon, it is disclosed that Charlie, who is also married, is having an affair with Anna. As if Charlie’s professional and sexual superiorities over Stephen weren’t enough, to add insult to injury, Charlie one day uses Stephen’s house for his secret affair with Anne, when Stephen is out to London. Bogarde does an excellent job communicating his hidden but seething anger against Charlie.
Stephen hides Anna from the police inspectors when they come to Stephen’s house to investigate the car crash. It seems Anna, who does not have a driver’s license, was driving the car because William was dead drunk as usual. Stephen uses this knowledge to force Anna to have a sex with him. After the accident Anna leaves England, leaving confused Charlie behind.
This film may be meant to show the decline of English national character, but to me it presents one case study of the frightening weakness and fallibility of human “rectitude.”
My husband and I attended the Seattle Opera Production of Verdi’s Nabucco as part of the celebration of our anniversary (3 decades +) last Saturday. We did not expect much from this production since this opera, Verdi’s first, was rarely staged (which suggested e some irrelevant elements in the opera). Thus, we were rather surprised to realize how satisfied we were with this production of the opera.
The first surprise was provoked when the curtain was raised. Instead of the usual stage props what we saw in the center of dark stage was the orchestra with its conductor. It was as if we were attending a symphonic concert. The orchestra played the overture very well and we were quite satisfied. After all, what’s important in an opera production is its music, its singing. Then, a chorus walked out onto the stage in the back of the orchestra, and began to sing, which was also very good. The music is the thing. All the principal singers who sang upon the downstage and the apron where the orchestra pit was usually located were excellent. In fact, perhaps due to the location of their singing their voices often sounded even more sonorous.
In addition to the placement of the orchestra we were also surprised by the fact that the stage set was non-existent in this production. Instead of the usual stage façade, they used mostly expressive (as opposed to graphical) visual projections and video backdrops, which often appeared vaguely organic or even biological. The mysterious quality of these non-descript images worked for this opera due to the nature of the operatic material, which was ancient and religious.
The narrative itself, which was taken from the Bible, was rather convoluted and alien. However, two aspects of the narrative, such as Abigaille’s sorrow over her birth fate as a daughter of a slave in spite of the fact that she was also Nabucco’s daughter, and Nabucco’s emotional turmoil over his inability to love Abigaille as much as his daughter Fenena, were universal and helped the audience become engaged in the narrative intellectually as well as emotionally.
In the end, we were very happy that we could attend the Seattle Opera production of the rarely performed Verdi’s first opera Nabucco – though the smart staging (I think the opera company saved money by not creating extravagant stage facades) made me a little worried about the future of the opera in Seattle. I hope more people will learn the pleasure of opera so that it will live forever in our and our children’s cultural life.
Long Island in New York is essentially an elongated sand bar that extends horizontally below Connecticut, from Brooklyn, part of which is said to consist of granite, to Montauk, which is famous for commercial and sports fishing. The east side of Long Island, such as Southampton, is famous as a summer vacation site for the celebrities. The town center of Southampton is a small but fashionable place where interesting or cute stores as well as a few restaurants congregate. Since it is a town full of wealthy people it can support an admission-free art museum that exhibits the works of local (Long Island) artists. It’s a nice place to visit and invites many tourists.
Sag Harbor is a village, not so far away from Southampton town center. However, we had never visited the place before mostly because we did not know much about the village. This time my husband, his sister, and I visited the place. As we strolled along the village center we came upon a little theater called Bay Street Theater. Its foyer was packed with people. And a person was calling out to announce the start of the final show of Five Presidents whose performance was extended several times before. Curious, we visited the box office and found out that there were several tickets still available. Then, we made an impromptu decision to see the play Five Presidents which was written by Rick Cleveland, a writer who wrote some scripts for The West Wing and House of Card. The Bay Street Theater is small theater that can probably house about 300 hundred audience. We sat on the left side in the front row, and waited for the play to begin.
The play’s premise was the imagined interactions among the five presidents (President Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton) who gathered at the funeral of Richard Nixon. The dialogues, a mixture of banter, irony, bickering, and confession, were mostly based on the fairly well known “facts” about these presidents with occasional jokes about politicians and particular presidents. It was funny to see these people belonging in this “exclusive club” freely exhibit individualized human pettiness and weaknesses. In this sense, the play was gossipy. But, it was also sympathetic to all these politicians, showing their humanities, for instance, over the painful decisions that ultimately resulted in some Americans’ deaths.
On the whole, the quick-paced play with its efficient stage design was enjoyable and energizing. I also thought the actors did very good job communicating the quirks and personalities of individual presidents.
One of the pleasures of visiting Manhattan is its diverse restaurants. Since we enjoy good food (I know what I mean by “good” may be a little different from some people) we visited The Modern restaurant adjacent to (more like within the structure of) the Museum of Modern Art. Since I remembered this lovely restaurant from a prior visit, I wanted to have dinner in The Modern. My husband was initially reluctant to go there because “it’s a museum restaurant,” but he was persuaded to have dinner there when we discovered that it received a Michelin star.
The dinner there was superb. First of all the ambience was wonderful. Our table was immediately next to the sculpture garden of MOMA which was only separated by a view-glass window, thus allowing us ample time to appreciate the art works, such as Rodin’s Balzac and Henry Moore’s Mother and Child, as well as people sitting in the garden. The staff was wonderful, with their cordial attentiveness. Since it was a special occasion (at most, once-a-year visit to Manhattan) we ordered a full tasting course (though my husband who does not care for risotto did not order “black truffle risotto”).
The tasting course menu started with caviar, chicken’s egg and dill sauce, a delicate mix of black, yellow and green. It was followed by red tuna tartar with mustard seed and chopped green onion. The foie gras was served as a tart with cherry sauce. And then the highlight of the menu, which my husband also acknowledged as the highlight, risotto with black truffle, followed. Initially the plate of risotto was served and one of the special staff to serve truffle shaved a rounded black truffle over the risotto. I shared some of the cream-colored risotto with shaved truffle with my husband, who very much appreciated the truffle with risotto. This delicious dish was followed by cod with French beans and petite potatoes, and then by beef with more truffle, white leek puree, dark-brown bone-marrow sauce, and blue-cheese stuffed tomato. The desserts were rhubarb sorbet with puff pastry, and chocolate ice cream and vanilla mouse with ganache. The whole dinner was very pleasant and delicious. Nothing in the menu was out of ordinary like some elaborate dishes with artistic flare in some Michelin starred restaurants, but I thoroughly enjoyed every one of the dishes in the tasting menu.
In Yukio Mishima’s novel After the Banquet the author detailed the kimono worn by the heroine as well as the menus of banquet dinners at the Japanese restaurant owned and managed by her to help the reader imagine the full aesthetic pleasure that such a restaurant offers to its guests. In our postmodern world where the border between craftsmanship and artistry is obliterated, and where transient art forms prevail, reflecting upon the ephemeral nature of our contemporary life, culinary art is a bona fide art form. It offered me an added pleasure to recollect the wonderful dinner at The Modern.
a city of immigrants, an extreme form of hibernation, dinosaur and mammoth skeletons, families, Manhattan, parents and their children, science education, the creatures living in the extreme conditions, the tardigrade, world tourists
During our stay in Manhattan we visited the American Museum of Natural History basically to see the dinosaur and mammoth skeletons (my husband’s favorite). Before visiting the museum we had breakfast at Café Europa. As we sat at the table waiting for our orders to arrive I was struck by the number of different languages spoken (French, German, Spanish, etc.) in such a small space. It was simply due to the fact that New York is a city of immigrants in a country of immigrants, but it is also due to the fact that New York is a city for tourists from all over the world more so than London, Paris and Rome (judging from my limited experience, I acknowledge). Sitting in the cacophony of many languages I felt as if we were placed in the “Tower of Babylon,” not in a negative sense but in a positive sense. It was interesting to observe people from different places speaking in their own languages. The people there mostly appeared to consist of parents and their children, exhibiting slightly different manner of relating to one another. I inferred that family as an institution is alive well in most parts of the world.
After having breakfast, we went to the American Museum of Natural History. The place was packed with people from all over the world, it seemed. The dominant demographic of the museum was the school-age children; they were accompanied by their parents and supervisors. Since there were so many people we had to wait in a long line to purchase the admission tickets. I wondered if this amazing popularity of the museum was due to the recent releases of “Jurassic Park” and “Night at the Museum” movies. On the other hand, I also thought this phenomenon of a packed “scientific” museum with many families showed the perennial and universal love of parents for their children: the parents want their children get ahead in their society by encouraging them to develop an interest in science in this technology-driven world.
We saw the grand collection of gigantic dinosaur and mammoth skeletons at the museum (which, in fact, we had seen several times in the past). But, what fascinated me most in this visit was a special exhibit concerning the creatures living in the extreme conditions. The highlight of this special exhibit was a living organism called the tardigrade, which can survive at extreme conditions, even in space, by shutting down its life system temporarily mostly by folding themselves up as small as possible (a more extreme form of hibernation, I’d say). The tardigrade, which looks like a weird creature in a space suit, may help humans explore ways to survive very lengthy space travels, such as one that requires hundreds years to travel.
Both my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed An American in Paris which received the 2015 Tony Award for new musical. The balletic musical was inspired by the 1951 film starring Gene Kelly, and, like film, used music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin. The story itself was highly conventional without any pretension to philosophical gravitas, though it added elements of historical seriousness by stressing its historical context: Paris was just liberated by American troops, and the heavy weight of Nazism was underscored by the beginning images as well as the story element involving the love interest Lise, who is Jewish. However, the show was essentially about songs and dance. It boasted a Principal dancer with New York City Ballet Robert Fairchild in the role of Jerry Mulligan( the American in Paris), and a former soloist with Miami City Ballet Sara Esty in the role of Lise Dassin, the girl Jerry falls in love with. Since major dance numbers were danced by ballet dancers and music was very familiar, I felt the whole production was more heavily balanced toward dance. In a way, I think this production suggests a new direction that American ballet companies may explore.
Not having read the original British novel by Mark Haddon on which The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was based, I was immediately struck by the similarity between this Tony Award-winning new play and the stage version of Haruki Murakami’s novel Kafka on the Shore which I saw in 2012 in Osaka (I found the stage version very moving and gratifying; the original cast with Yuya Yagira as Kafka, Yuko Tanaka as Saeki, and the amazing Hiroki Hasegawa as Oshima was indeed splendid). The followings are similarities. In terms of the content, both narratives focused on an unusual teenage boy; both narratives dealt with a boy’s search for his missing mother; and both boys had difficult relationships with their fathers. In terms of the production design, both utilized flashy electronic devices to express the boy’s confusion as he encountered the chaos of contemporary societies. But, the similarities end there. While Kafka’s world is all about metaphors, Christopher, the protagonist in the Curious Incident, does not understand metaphors since his perception of the world is guided by rigid literalness, which is the source of his difficulties in communicating with people. However, I thought the similarities between these two narratives significant and interesting, historically speaking. Though the character and thoughts of a teenage boy as a worthy subject to explore has a long history in American literature, from Huckleberry Finn to Holden Caulfield, the British and Japanese literature did not really consider them that important, perhaps reflecting each society’s values.
Now the lengthy preamble aside, the Broadway play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was excellent. From the very beginning the set design that showed the main character’s mathematical mind was at once unexpected and engaging. It was almost as if the production designers were trying to present images and clues so that we the audience could see the world from the perspective of Christopher Boone. Alex Sharp as Christopher who stayed on stage almost throughout the play was amazing in his physical as well as expressive agility. As he navigates the small country-life world and big-town life in London Christopher, who has been often considered at risk due to his autism-spectrum condition, grows up as a person who can more or less deal with the chaos of contemporary life. The ending was a little dissatisfying because it obfuscated some real-issue problems in Christopher’s family life. But, I can say unequivocally that the play ends happily.
In this visit to New York City my husband and I saw three Broadway shows. By far this is the largest number of Broadway shows we saw in one visit.
The first show we saw was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I. I had expected much from this version of The King and I since I read rave reviews of the show. In addition, the Japanese actor Ken Watanabe was playing the role of the king. In the past, I did not see either musical or film version of The King and I since it smacked of the continuation of the pre-WWII Colonialism sentiment. But, I wanted to see the musical because Ken Watanabe was nominated for the Tony Award and the leading actress Kelli O’Hara received the Tony Award.
When I received the playbill as we arrived at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center I was disappointed to know that the king was not played by Ken Watanabe. An additional disappointment was caused by the fact that the role of Anna would not be played by Kelli O’Hara in this particular performance but rather by Betsy Morgan, who was not even an understudy. Nevertheless I expected something good because this revival version of The King and I did receive the Tony Award.
The King and I was a typical Broadway show with its lavish production design and desire to entertain the audience. It was spectacular and entertaining. I cannot tell how this production of the musical which was directed by Bartlett Sher (who used to work at Intiman’s Theater in Seattle) was different from others, but I can say that this new version may be a little more culturally sensitive trying to avoid uncritical cultural imperialism. In the end, the East gets destroyed by the West, as symbolized by the iconic presentation of the king on his death bed (I thought Jose Llama who played the king looked a little too young, by the way), but it ends rather happily by having Anna decide to stay in Siam as a teacher and making the prince declare the new law for the Siam, suggesting that what dies would be what was feudalistic and inhumane with Siam.