Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Change & Upheaval

The last day of March and feeling a little shaky because April promises something of a radical change and upheaval around here. I suspect that some readers of this blog return because of an interest in not just fountain pens, but also with some curiosity about things Japanese seen through American eyes. From the very beginning back in November of last year, the daily posts have been focused on impressions revolving around not just fountain pens and ink, but on an assortment of topics I thought might be of interest through my Tokyo perspective. That perspective will soon change.


After twenty-eight years of living and working in Tokyo, April 23 will see me leaving Japan and returning to live in the US. On occasion, people here have asked how long I’ve been in Japan, and more than once in the past couple of years there’s been the temptation to reply, “Too long.” But, that shouldn’t imply that I don’t like it here, or that there’s something ‘driving’ or ‘pushing’ me away. Simply put, I just have a desire to live now in my native country, for better or worse.


Japan has been my home for longer than any other place in my life. Clearly a great part of my world view has been shaped by the time here. To be honest, I’m more than a little anxious about the adjustments facing me when I wake up one morning soon to find the world has spun me into a new, and in many ways unfamiliar orbit. The differences in Tokyo and the little Florida beach town I return to are differences comparable to Venus and Mars, but hopefully, the experience of my annual summer holidays in Florida will put some cushioning between me and the bigger culture shocks.


Much of my time now is spent packing boxes and cleaning out closets. Perhaps I’m on schedule, perhaps not, but either way, it must all be done by the 20th, when the shippers come to take everything away.


Well, enough of all that…

Between now and the time my Internet connection is cut off on April 18, this blog will stray from the familiar topics. Time for writing is being squeezed by other things in my run to the Tokyo finish line, and I expect more distractions in coming days. Normally, I keep a record of thoughts and what I’m doing in a journal, but that too is losing time to other concerns. So, with that in mind, and because I think the process might be of slight interest to some, from tomorrow until the time I leave Tokyo these pages will relate some of my steps along the way toward finally departing Japan.


Once I am settled in Florida with the Internet connection restored, I will put the blog back on track, though without the same Japanese frame of reference. Bear with me, please, and thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Platinum 3776, A Sure Treasure

In the mid-1930s Platinum Pen Company began making maki-e fountain pens. Maki-e is an original Japanese technique for decorating
lacquerware, first used sometime between the years 710 and 794, and perfected over the centuries. The beautiful traditional patterns are enhanced by elegant touches of gold and silver, then finished with a natural varnish called
urushi.


1978 saw the arrival of the Platinum 3776, a landmark fountain pen designed by Haruo Umeda. The numbers refer to the height of Mt Fuji in meters, and the process of taking this pen from prototype to release is an interesting story that bears telling.


When he was finally satisfied with a prototype design, Mr Umeda gave models of the pen to fifty different writers for testing. Each of these writers (as working professionals) wrote a minimum of thirty pages per day. At the end of this testing their suggestions were then weighed and considered in finalizing the Platinum 3776 design.


Four basic design concepts came out of the testing: (1) The pen’s barrel must be thick; the 3776 measures 14.8 millimeters. (2) The nib must be on the large size, 14k gold considered durable and suitable for heavy writing. (3) The design must never be boring, but something the owner-writer can treasure. (4) The pen must fit the hand well.


The Platinum belief in nib design has determined that gold is best because it is flexible, durable, and will not be corroded by the acids common to most inks. Iridium, an alloy next to the diamond in hardness is used at the tip of the nib. And what I think is a fascinating gem of trivia… With an iridium-tipped pen you should be able to write from 5-6 million characters (Japanese), which would stretch to a distance of 60-70 kilometers (37-43 miles). Writing 1,000 characters a day, the nib should last no less than ten years.


My own Platinum 3776 (in the photos) is one with a Chinese bellflower design by an artist whose Japanese signature reads ‘Eastern Cloud.’ It is identified as Platinum 3776 PB30000A and has a broad 14k nib. It came in the paulownia wood box seen in the photo.


It is a very, very special fountain pen and certainly one this writer-owner can treasure.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Fountain Pen Friendly

The mention of Life Noble Note Plain, my favorite notebook for journal keeping is nothing new to these pages, and its praises have been sung in more than one post. It’s a longtime standby for me and I keep a stack of them on hand. I’m coming to the end of a notebook now (page 100), so went to my stash pile this morning for a new one.


Egad! Gadzooks! Nothing there! At the moment I spied the empty shelf space it came to me that a week ago I had grabbed up all those unused Life Noble Note journals and sent them off to Florida for use when I’m there. Nothing for it but to pull up an unused Rollbahn notebook. This is not a bad alternative, but there are two things about the Rollbahn I’m not crazy about.


First off, the A6 size is slightly smaller than what I’m most comfortable writing in. Over the years, the larger A5 (5.8 x 8.3 inches) has become familiar to my style of journal writing, and a sudden switch feels a little odd. Another feature of the Rollbahn notebook that doesn't thrill me is the graphed pages—lines both horizontal and vertical. This is more preferable to only horizontal lines, bu my real preference is unlined pages.


The advantage of the Rollbahn is the quality of the paper. The creamy yellow pages have a good thickness, and looking through an old, filled notebook I can find no bleed through or feathering on any of the seventy pages. That includes writing done with at least a dozen different pens, in probably two dozen different inks. The Rollbahn paper is very, very fountain pen friendly.


A few Rollbahn specifics…

Variety of notebook colors: black, white, red, blue (light or dark), green, purple, orange and pink

Size: A6; 4.1 x 5.8 inches (110 x 210 millimeters); available in 3 smaller sizes

70 pages; graph-lined creamy yellow with 5 full-page plastic pockets for cards, photos, etc in the back of the notebook

Wirebound, thick cardboard covers with an elastic band to hold the notebook closed

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bang Bang You’re Dead

Very likely that anyone who considers him or herself a fan of writer Raymond Chandler will be familiar with his seminal essay, “The Simple Art of Murder.” The essay was first published in The Atlantic Monthly in December 1944, and was a response to Howard Haycrafts’s 1941 book, Murder for Pleasure: The Life and Times of the Detective Story, a work which celebrated the Dorothy Sayers-Agatha Christie model of detective fiction.


The style in this essay is very different from Chandler’s mystery stories and novels, and his criticism of British mystery writing razor sharp. The essay has become almost required reading for Chandler fans, and for anyone else hoping to understand how the genre has evolved.


Chandler argues in his essay that all too often—especially in the examples cited by Haycraft—the mystery writer makes an intellectual game of the story. He goes on to attack the contrived situations, the simplistic and improbable characterizations, and solutions devoid of ambiguity. To Chandler it lacks the messiness of real life, and he insists that fiction in any form must be realistic. In an amusing quip, he lambasts some of the famous names in British detective fiction, saying: ‘Personally, I like the English style better…The English may not always be the best writers in the world, but they are incomparably the best dull writers.’ (Chandler lived in England until the age of twenty-four.)


A good part of “The Simple Art of Murder” is given to praise of Dashiel Hammett, explaining that Hammett, with his dialogue, characterizations and hard-boiled settings exemplifies the reality-realism necessary to lift the genre to a higher level.


The essay closes with what could be an almost point by point description of Chandler’s famous character, Philip Marlowe, a man operating in the reality of his (and our) society…


“In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things.

“He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks—that is, with a rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness.

The story is this man’s adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in. If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.”


Moving forward a few years and looking at a modern writer who surely displays the Chandler legacy, we can see in Michael Connelly’s L.A. shamus, Harry Bosch, a man easily recognizable as the hero Chandler describes in “The Simple Art of Murder.”


“The Simple Art of Murder” complete essay here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Legend, Symbolism & Pelikan

One of the things I like most about summers in Florida is watching the pelicans as they fly up and down the long stretch of beach. Except when they are feeding in the late afternoon, and flying low over the water, they pass overhead in groups of eight or ten in what seems like a perfection of graceful flight.


10,000 miles away from those lazy afternoons, sitting gazing out my Tokyo windows, my attention wanders to the Pelikan fountain pen I am fiddling with, and I begin to wonder about the well-known Pelikan crest on the cap and the meaning or symbolism that might be associated with that image. I am already familiar with the evolution of the crest’s design, and have even posted some of those images in this blog, but now I’m curious about the echoes, or associations of the famous image—the pelican feeding her chicks.


The pelican is symbolic of self-sacrificial love. The idea comes from the legend that pelicans tear their breasts to feed their young. This image of the bleeding breast was taken up by early Christians to symbolize the Passion of Christ and the Eucharist. They might also have drawn further symbolism from the belief that a male pelican resurrects its dead young with its own blood, comparable to Christ shedding his blood for mankind. A tradition in this line is that the pelican chicks are strangled by Satan in the guise of a snake, and the blood of the self-sacrificing parent awakens the strangled chicks.


Another possible source of the bleeding breast legend could be the bird’s manner of pressing its bill into its chest to empty the pouch. One breed, the Dalmatian Pelican has a blood-red pouch early in the breeding season, and with its bill pointed down and pressing against the chest, it easily gives the impression of a bloody breast.


Little evidence that all this legend and symbolism went into Pelikan’s decision to use the image as their corporate logo, but it’s an interesting thought.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Little Devils of Malraux

I can’t pretend to know a great deal about my subject, but perhaps an avid interest will supply some of the dimension necessary to support my impressions. French writer, art critic and theorist, André Malraux (1901-1976) was something of an intellectual celebrity, and quite well respected in France during the middle of the 20th century. Time has diminished his

stature somewhat, and present day art historians have dismissed, or now ignore the writing of Malraux. I believe he was always a man difficult to understand. Critics have described his theories as either vague, inscrutable or eccentric. But in spite of the difficulty, Malraux had in his favor a lifelong passion for life, art and literature.


Between the years 1946 and 1966 he produced a wealth of sketches which are known as his Dyables, or ‘Little Devils.’ These are not full-blown drawings of immediately recognizable subjects, but rather small surreal ‘doodles’ rising from the writer’s depth of thought. They cannot be classified as projects or preparatory work, but drawings Malraux put in the margins of letters, manuscripts and on scraps of paper—what we call marginalia. They are done in simple lines and curvilinear patterns of imaginary characters somewhere between dream and reality.


The Dyables are examples of the writer’s fascination with fantasy, or in his language, farfelu. This farfelu was essential to Malraux’s view of art, literature and the world.


I unexpectedly stumbled upon an exhibition of the Dyable sketches a few years back, and was charmed by their somewhat mad or bizarre quality. It is as though each one holds you momentarily captured in its grip while you puzzle out a meaning. The fact that many of them first appeared in the margins of a letter or manuscript only adds to their charm. I have long been drawn to comment and illustration in the margins of something I am reading.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fountain Pen Design, Circa 1966

Some things tend to slip past me, and I am as it were, occasionally ‘late to the party.’ Such was the case with Lamy’s popular Safari fountain pen. By the time I got around to buying a Safari, it was far from new and already wildly popular. Now it has happened again, this time with a Lamy design that first appeared in 1966. Sitting before me now is a fountain pen that could be called the hallmark of minimalist Bauhaus design—the Lamy 2000.


Unbelievably, over forty years have passed since Lamy first released this pen. Four decades, and it looks like a design that came off the drawing board last week. The Lamy 2000 stands at the pinnacle of industrial design, and is the work of designer, Gerd Alfred Müller, following the Bauhaus idea of function dictating form in sleek zero-frills design. Tapping into 21st century descriptive jargon, some have described the Lamy 2000 as having no ‘bling.’ Perhaps the word serves its purpose in this instance, though it isn’t one easily associated with fountain pens. Müller’s design for Lamy won the Busse Long Life design prize in 1984, and is still frequently mentioned in European design reviews.


The body of the pen is made of a matte black fiberglass resin called Makrolon, with a very subtle grain not visible at first look. The only break in the matte black is a spring loaded, brushed steel pocket clip, and a small inlaid silver disc on the end opposite the clip. Looking closely at the side of the pocket clip you can see the name LAMY in small letters. The piston filler’s screw top has a totally invisible join, and initially one might wonder how to fill the pen. One feature which raises a question is the ink window, which only indistinctly shows the ink level, leaving one to guess how much ink remains in the pen.


Another unusual feature of the Lamy 2000 is its nib sizes. Available in a wide range—EF, F, M, OM, B, BB, OB, and OBB—these labels are misleading. Most who use the Lamy 2000 will recommend choosing a size down from the preferred size. In other words, the nib of the 2000 is broader than expected, and designations are misleading. I wonder if true extra fine writing is even possible with a Lamy 2000, since the ‘F’ writes as you would expect an ‘M’ nib to write. Bear in mind as well that the 14k gold, platinum plated nib has some flex, which is likely at times to lay down a wider line. The feeling is very, very different from the Safari, with its steel nib. The curious thing about my own Lamy 2000, which I got as a gift, is that it writes like an ‘M’ nib, but that is only a guess, as neither the pen, box, or enclosed paper reveal a nib size. So, a question occurs, if not ‘told’ by someone, how do you determine what nib size you have?


The 2000 is a wet pen, and ink flows from the hooded nib almost too freely. It writes beautifully on high quality absorbent paper (Crane), but tends to feather in my Noble Note journal, with its thick cream paper. Of the four different types of paper I’ve tried, there is feathering with only the Noble Note. I don't attribute the problem to the ink, Pilot’s Iroshizuku Fuyu-shogun.


I read a review that indicated US sales of the Lamy 2000 lag behind European sales. If I had to assign a reason for that, (and this is a guess) it might be that Americans prefer a pen not quite so wet, and that possibly the inaccurate nib labeling might cause some reluctance about buying it. I haven’t had my 2000 very long, but thus far it produces a line I like, and I look forward to using it often.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Another Nod to Sepia Ink

Possible that I may finally have found a sepia ink that I can use comfortably on more than just rare occasions. Sepia is a difficult shade of ink, and there are limitations to how far true sepia can be stretched. Different makers have various ideas about what it should look like. Compare Montblanc and Hakase to see different notions of the color. I wrote something about these two sepia inks in a blog post last January 7 called, “Legacy of the Cuttlefish.” At that time I wrote of finding little satisfaction in either the Montblanc or the Hakase sepia, the first too red, the second too pale. Though we associate the color sepia with brown, perhaps an antique brown, the basis of the color is the black we see in the ink of the cuttlefish. It was from this that the first sepia ink was made.


This morning someone gave me a bottle of Athena Sepia ink made by the Japanese stationer, Maruzen. The whole package is antique, to the extent that even the writing on the bottle is read in the old fashioned Japanese style, from right to left. The bottle’s shape is evocative of the 1920s, and the light green box is printed in a way that gives it the appearance of an old patent medicine from grandmother’s day. Receiving the gift, I was immediately impressed by the box and bottle, seeing a connection between presentation and the antiquity of sepia ink. I hurried home eager to give the Athena Sepia a trial.


Removing the cap and looking down into the bottle you get the feeling that it is a rich shade. Somehow it doesn’t have the watery look of other sepia inks. My first experiment was with a Q-tip, and that verified the richness. I then chose a Sailor 1911 Large fountain pen with a 21k ‘M’ nib, and after washing it well, filled it with the Athena Sepia. From the first words on the page I was pleased with the color, and wondered right off if the Iroshizuku blenders at Pilot had meditated upon this Athena sepia in the formulation of their Yama-guri brown. Because that’s what the Athena Sepia is close to, and it is the older ink. They are remarkably close.


In the Sailor 1911, the flow of ink is smooth, and looking closely at the samples, perhaps you will notice the nice shading it produces. Saturation is excellent. I tried it on two different kinds of paper and had good results on both. First I put a Q-tip smear and some lines on a sheet of 100% cotton based Crane stationery; satisfaction all around. No feathering, no bleed through, and not long in drying time. Next I tried a page of thick quality Japanese paper from an old journal. In this case, too I was pleased with the ink’s performance. No feathering, but a very slight bleed through, maybe not enough to count.


No question that from here on out, when the sepia mood strikes me, it’s Athena Sepia ink from Maruzen that will color my pen’s nib.



Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Who Doesn’t Love Baby Elephants?

In 2004 a very young Japanese actor—Yûya Yagira, age 14—won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his debut performance in the film, Nobody Knows. It was a wonderful and deeply moving picture, and anyone seeing it couldn't help being impressed by the young actor in his first ever acting job.


Yagira appeared next in 2005, in a true story about a Japanese boy who went to Thailand to become a mahout, a picture called Shining Boy and Little Randy. It’s unfortunate the movie was stuck with this perfectly awful title, but in spite of that it is a good picture. Yagira portrays the real life Tetsumu Sakamoto in the simplest and most unaffected way that seems almost like non-acting. For the second film in a row he gives a very moving performance.


The story briefly… Junior high student Tetsumu lives with his family at what is a country zoo, where monkeys, tigers, donkeys, ponies and dogs are numerous. They try to earn a living by hiring the animals out to movies and TV shows, but it’s hard going caring for so many animals, and with the bank dunning them for loan payments. The mother has always dreamed of having an elephant, and by selling a few of the other animals, they manage to buy an elephant from a bankrupt zoo. The real story begins here, because it turns out that the son, Tetsumu, has an uncanny rapport with the elephant, insisting even that the animal talks to him. Before long they manage to obtain another elephant, this one an untrained baby. With this elephant too, the boy has a special relationship. He discovers that there is a school in Thailand where he can study to become a mahout, or caretaker-trainer of elephants. And so he goes off for a year and a half to Chiang Mai, Thailand, returning to Japan as a fully qualified mahout. With his skills learned in Thailand, the family fortunes appear to be on an upswing, as does the boy’s strained relationship with his mother and step-father. But there’s no escaping the sad ending, as it is a true story that ended in tragedy.


If you are someone who is quick to tears, this movie will have you crying both happy and sad tears. I think they call such movies a tearjerker. But that’s sort of par for the course when it’s a story about pursuing a dream, overcoming difficulties and eventually seeing that dream come true. Though it is true that the biggest part of Tetsumu’s dream—to create a reserve for older elephants—had to finally be initiated by his mother.


Two outstanding elements of Shining Boy and Little Randy are the music by Ryûichi Sakamoto and the visually lush photography of Thailand by Hiroshi Takase. There is also some simple and unsophisticated humor with the monkeys, as well as the elephants. The scene in which the chimpanzee ‘Smile’ releases all the animals to raid the unattended dinner table is very funny. I watched a documentary on the making of the movie and learned that it took them hours and hours to film that scene because of all the required animal tricks. But certainly there are things about this movie that some people will complain about, and I will say to them once more, relax and stop looking for perfection in a story that makes you laugh and cry and tells you something about the human condition without all the metaphysics. This one also tells us something about the short life of an extraordinary young man.


I feel certain that those interested in the movie will find it (with English subtitles) at the local video-DVD rental store. My guess is Redbox has it in their inventory. (If you're in Japan, Tsutaya has it.) I liked it enough myself to buy the DVD.


The preview below is in Japanese, but it will give you an idea of what the movie is like.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Bidding Four Diamonds



Back briefly to something in the latest issue of Shumi no bunbôgu bako


I play a hand of cards now and then, but can’t honestly describe it as a hobby, or a regular activity. On the other hand, I do love old luggage labels, and when I saw the deck of cards Pentacle is offering in Stationery Hobby Box, I had an instant urge to order a deck, to play at bidding and sloughing with such a noble array of cards.


Look at the photos here and try to tell yourself they aren’t beautiful. My favorites are the eight of spades and the four of diamonds, probably because they call to mind my own days of traveling by ship. Someone put out a calendar similar to these cards a couple of years back, so it was no great leap in carrying the same idea over to a deck of playing cards and raising the number of images from twelve to fifty-two.


The Pentacle website is unfortunately, all in Japanese, though clicking on the hyperlinked thumbnails will bring up pictures of their products. I sent them an email asking about overseas orders, particularly from the US, but so far have not gotten a response. The Luggage Label playing cards are priced at ¥1,470, which is in the neighborhood of US $16.00.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Another Look at Stationery Hobby Box

On December 23 of last year, I introduced a Japanese magazine devoted to pens, inks and other stationery goods. The name of the magazine is Shumi no bungu bako, or in English, Stationery Hobby Box. To my regret the magazine is published only three times a year, and the wait between issues seems terribly long. In the earlier post I expressed my opinion that Shumi no bungu bako is at the top of the heap as far as magazines about stationery go. You won’t find better.


The latest issue, released on March 19, has as its main theme, or topic, stationery goods convenient for travel. All of that is beautifully presented in many of the magazine’s 152 pages, but I am more interested in showing two pages on another subject.


More and more these days, ink specialists are moving into the area of subtle and natural, perhaps even organic shades of ink. Basic colors are now taken for granted. We all know, can name and have in our collections the standard blues, blacks, reds and greens. Now the ink blenders are showing us more adventurous shades. Imagine an ink described as ‘Young Nightingale.’ The name all by itself makes me want to own a bottle.


In connection with the photographs here, I want to introduce some of the new and adventurous shades of ink from Sailor. The Voltaire and Ishida Bungu inks are both under the Sailor Jentle Ink label. In the middle photo to the right you can see two vertical rows, with four bottles on the right, four on the left. Starting with the Sailor inks on the right, at the top is something called Sakura-Mori, or Cherry Forest; below that is Miruai, and the best translation I can come up with is Deep Green-Black. The color is described as coming from the darkening pine trees growing along the rocky seacoasts of Japan. Third is the very beautiful, Waka-Uguisu, or Young Nightingale Green. The bottom example on the right is named Nioi-Sumire, which in English becomes Fragrant Violet. The description makes no mention of a fragrance, though the word is in the name.


In the same photo, but on the left hand side, are four Voltaire colors. The top ink is called Kôbai-Iro, which becomes something like Plum Blossom Pink in English. Below that is Hana-Asagi, or Pale Flower Blue. Third in line is Moegi, which implies Early Spring Green. Last in the Voltaire four is Kuro-Tsurubami, a difficult translation that I have made into Iron Black.


Looking at the next photo you will see three inks from Ishida Bungu, but carrying the Sailor Jentle Ink label. The colors are originals of the Ishida Bungu store in Hokkaido, and my guess is they have been licensed to Sailor. The theme is ‘a taste of the local’ referring to the city of Hakodate in Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island. From left to right, the colors are: Hakodate Seaweed, named for a brownish green seaweed common to the area; in the center is Hakodate Curry, which recognizes the brownish-yellow curry sauce at a curry restaurant which opened in the city in 1879. On the right is Hakodate Twilight Blue, said to resemble the blue of twilight in the area.


In time, I expect these inks will be exported to stores outside of Japan, and that probably includes the Voltaire as well as the Hakodate colors. Voltaire is a store located in Kyoto, and they do have online shopping, but I doubt that they ship overseas. Voltaire

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Salad Anniversary

A way long time ago in 1988 a friend here in Tokyo gave me a just published collection of poems called Salad Anniversary. The poems were by a still relatively unknown teacher of Japanese, barely 25 years old. The book, in a very short time, made the name of Tawara Machi practically household words.


Tawara spoke for a generation of young Japanese trying to find their way ebulliently through the ups and downs of city life. She wrote about love, or the lack of it, about family, baseball and music, and all the things that characterize life in a megalapolis as both thorny and exciting.


What makes her poems so effective and so interesting is the clever mix of old forms with new words, ideas and experiences. Tawara’s form is the classical thirty-one syllable tanka poem, which dates from the 8th century in Japan. Of course, this syllable count refers to the Japanese, and carries little relevance when the words are put into another language. But the poet is adhering to certain rules in composing tanka, and she meets those rules, but then quickly gives them a jaunty cuff on the ear. She follows one rule, but breaks the next. In many of her poems you find the classical aligned with the modern, vernacular expression mixed with classical conjugation.


Despite the seeming complexity, Tawara’s poems abound with freshness and the zest of life. Even now, 22 years after their publication they still have significance to the workings of the heart. If nothing else, the poems in Salad Anniversary are universal in their appeal. Still today they call up that, “Yeah, I know what you mean” response.


One of my favorite things about the poetry of Tawara Machi is the beauty she finds in every day small things. Whether it be green peas or electrical cables, she extracts a nugget of unexpected charm or beauty.


About the four examples from Salad Anniversary I am introducing here, the themes run from erotic love to memory, music and city experiences. Take a few minutes to savor the thoughts and observations of Tawara Machi. Maybe you too will read them with a feeling of, “Yeah, I know what you mean.”


Boyfriend…

Secretly I try on your jacket

drinking in your smell

and strike a pose like James Dean.


Longing for the past…

Memories

are like frozen mixed vegetables

except you’re not supposed to try thawing them out.


On the way home…

Pausing to vomit

a day of work-weariness and load another

the Yamanote Rail Line circles through murky twilight.


After a live concert…

Cords and cables flopped across the stage

as though they’d melted a score sheet

and let it drop.


The above English translations are by Jack Stamm from the 1988 First Edition.

Salad Anniversary

Kodansha International Edition (1990)

English translation by Julie Winters Carpenter


Friday, March 19, 2010

The Lady in Pink

Today I write a tribute to the lady who gave a richer, deeper meaning to my southern childhood, and years later brought enhanced pleasure to my Florida summers at the beach.


A timeline runs down the middle of the memories I have of you dear Jenny. The first part of that line is set in the hometown of old, that halcyon time of the early 1950s when everything was fresh sunlight, blooming figs, prancing Chihuahuas and red Ramblers. Your beautiful old home on Maywood Avenue, that perfectly placed jewel on the curve of the road, was my playground—mine and Cindy’s—for so many happy hours. But of course those hours were under your care, in the embrace of your always warm, watching heart. It is my sad regret that the years have taken away too many of those memories, too many of the shapes and colors of childhood. What remains are brief flashes of light from half remembered poetry, each flash illuminating a memory of your face.


And then suddenly one day years later, there we were in Florida, and I was so happy to see you again. I remember our first words together after a long separation of years. We were standing at the door of Cindy & Jack’s house in Mt Dora, and you weren’t sure I would recognize you, so you said to me, “I’m Jenny Christy, Bill.” In fact, I had recognized you in the dark from fifty feet away and knew in the first moment that you were the one and only Genevieve Christy. My answer to your ‘self-introduction’ was, “Well, of course, you are. Who’d you think you were?” That night probably ended horribly for you, because I teased you mercilessly about your beloved Nelson Eddy. But regardless of my badly-aimed slander, Nelson was always the man you thought he was, right up to the day of his death.


Sometime later, I remember sitting with you on the sofa at the beach, you showing me each lovingly crafted page of your latest fan scrapbook. Michael Crawford had by then nudged Nelson Eddy aside.


Nelson, Michael, Maywood Avenue, Mt Dora, or New Smyrna Beach, I will never forget the Lady in Pink, the lady with the red Rambler, and the lady with the big heart of gold who will always occupy a corner of my heart.


I love you Jenny, and you linger in my thoughts.


Genevieve Christy

1916-2007



Thursday, March 18, 2010

Conway Stewart: Benign Neglect

It suddenly occurred to me this morning that for reasons I don’t understand, as far as ink goes, Conway Stewart is a neglected brand in blog pages related to pen and ink. Thinking about it now, I can’t recall reading a single ink review for a Conway Stewart ink. What could the reason be?


A quick Google search shows that the choices are severely limited for someone looking to buy Conway Stewart ink. In addition, the available colors have shrunk from few to paltry. Two or three online stores offer blue or black, but nowhere could I find the full palette of eight colors. Pendemonium has in stock seven of them, lacking only the CS Green featured in this review. This situation makes you wonder if Conway Stewart is gradually withdrawing from the market, or if the demand for their ink has fallen off. I purchased a box of four Conway Stewart inks three years ago, and I believe it was from Classic Fountain Pens in Los Angeles. Now they don’t list Conway Stewart ink on their website. The set of four inks I got included blue, black, green and CS Green.


I’ve done little more than try the blue, black and green in an abbreviated fashion, mainly because the colors are too basic, too ‘vanilla’ for my tastes. On the other hand, the 30 ml bottle of CS Green is now almost empty. This is an ocean water blue-green that is beautiful, practical and eye-catching all at once. The occasions where it would be both acceptable and admired are enough to make it a basic, daily-use shade of ink.


The brief list of CS Green qualities in the photograph here reflect good results. On what I often consider to be a difficult 100% cotton paper (Crane stationery), the CS Green in my Pelikan 425 showed no feathering or bleed through. The flow of ink, the lubrication both good. I did something to test the waterproof qualities I’d never tried before. First, I submerged a sample in a bowl of water; a good amount of the ink washed out, but words were still legible. Next, I held the paper under running water for half a minute—still legible. Results were a heck of a lot better than someone leaving the cake out in the rain. (Mmm…Am I dating myself?)


The upshot of it all…If you can find a dealer who still has CS Green ink, buy yourself a bottle.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ephesus: Under a Roman Sun

Off on a day trip from Izmir to Ephesus in western Turkey, an ancient city with a rich Christian history. My companions are an elderly couple from Johannesburg, South Africa who introduce themselves as Anton and Paula. Paula impresses me as one of the old school Afrikaner types I remember from the Donald Woods book, Biko. I have to stop myself from gawking at her because she weaves such outlandish gestures in her conversation. Much of the time she looks as though she is practicing a Balinese folk dance. But very friendly.


Ephesus… Earliest beginnings of the city are tied to the 10th century BC, but the ruins we are seeing date from the 2nd century AD and at one time epitomized the golden age of Ephesus. During the 1st century AD, apostles John and Paul both preached in the city.


Everything shimmers beneath a blanket of heat as heavy as a Roman anvil. The half-buildings, or ruins are monumental. Looking around though, I can’t help thinking that at such an important historical excavation more care might be given to maintenance of the grounds. Foundations, individual pieces, stones, are all in place, ‘put back’ in a way to give visitors a feeling of what it once was, but the caretakers have allowed grass and weeds and scrub to run wild all over the site. I am certain that such was not a part of the original—weeds did not grow at the base of statues in Roman cities. Neither did plastic water bottles and Coca Cola cans rest in piles all around the city. Excavation and restoration are all beautiful, and though I am an no authority, that at least impresses me as very well done.


One of the excavations at Ephesus is the bath, and of course it is a Roman bath with all the marvels of Roman engineering. At one time, water constantly flowed through concealed channels to sluice away waste, while other channels brought a fresh flow of bath water. There remains a fountain that once produced noise to cover the indelicate sounds of citizens sitting upon marble toilets in the open bath area. Today these marble toilets are being vulgarized as posing benches for tourists with cameras. I can’t helping thinking that many would even be happy to see a headless plywood cutout of Paul behind which they could pose for more photos.


Walking from one end of the city to the other is a challenge in the furnace of midday sun. Heat and glare reflect from every surface and crowds of people jostle for views or camera angles. I imagine the splendor of seeing all this on a night lit by the shadowy gold of a full moon, minus all the clicks and whirring of a hundred cameras.


From Ephesus we go to the House of the Virgin Mary. This turns out to be a quiet and beautiful park-like setting of trees, with a fountain of bubbling water whose beneficence is described as spiritual healing. And then the house itself, now converted into a small chapel. Many believe that Mary passed her last days, under the care of Paul. The apostle came to Ephesus, city of idol worship and profit, to pass on to gentiles the teachings of Christ. He brought the aging mother of Christ with him, and she lived in this house.


We visit a museum which holds many of the objects excavated from Ephesus. I like it best for its design and atmosphere, constructed in a series of connected courtyards and open-air rooms. The overall museum is meant to echo the feeling of an ancient Roman terrace house of Ephesus.


Back in my hotel by late afternoon, numb with heat and exhaustion, and poorer by fifteen million lira.


Photos: The Library at Ephesus viewed through an adjacent archway; journal pages (Ephesus) with brass bowl and brass seal from the area.


About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America