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Showing posts from August, 2013

Nice, August 17 - 24

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The train ride from Paris to Nice took more than the promised four-and-a-half hours. The country views were brilliant--open blue skies, ochre rolling fields--and seeing the Mediterranean for the first time as the train hugged the coastline was very special, but next time we will take a plane instead. We left the crowded train station, picked up our apartment keys from a hotel nearby, and walked through the city, rolling our bags behind us. We were struck by how Italian the city looked. The first settlement was founded by the Greeks of Marseilles around 360 BCE. It came under the dominion of Savoy, then France, then Piedmont-Sardinia, and then back to France in 1860. After we had settled into the apartment on Rue de Suede, we took a walk along the famous Bay of Angels, by the Mediterranean.

The next day, the plan was to hit Coco Beach, some way out of the city, but we found an outdoors market when we walked about Vieille Ville, or Old Town. The Sunday market was a display of brilliant …

Paris, August 10 - 16

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GH and I spent two glorious weeks in France (August 10 - 24), the first week in Paris and the second in Nice. This was my fourth trip to Paris (it was GH's first) but my first trip to the French Riviera. We rented an apartment in both cities. The one in Paris was a lovely studio on the top floor of an old building along Charles V, in the St. Paul neighborhood of the Marais. It had wooden beams in the ceiling. From its windows one can see the rooftops of Paris. The apartment in Nice was a modern duplex, located just a block away from the Mediterranean.

On our day of arrival, we took a walk along the right and left banks of the River Seine. We had a late lunch at a small restaurant called Le Petite Plateau on a street facing the river, a little distance away from the tourist crowd on the Isle de la Cite. We walked to the Institute de France on the left bank before turning around and walking up to the Institute du Monde Arabe. The latter building, designed by Architecture-Studio and …

Murasaki Shikibu's "The Tale of Genji"

Reading Genji monogatari is like dreaming a beautiful and sad dream. The splendor of Genji's person, aptly captured in his nickname the Shining Lord, is marvelous. As is the splendor of his power after his return frome exile at Suma, cosmically represented by his house at Rokujo, with its four quarters and gardens corresponding to the seasons of the year. Yet splendor passes, as Genji first realizes when his father the Emperor dies.

The Edo period Japanese cultural scholar Motoori Norinaga first formulated the concept of mono no aware in his criticism of the Tale.  The "pathos of things" reaches its highest pitch in the death of Lady Murasaki, the wife that Genji loved above all. In a moment of reprieve from her illness, Murasaki grieves to imagine Genji's despair when she dies:

Alas, not for long will you see what you do now: any breath of wind may spill from a hagi frond the last trembling drop of dew.
Genji answers, with unbearable poignancy,

When all life is dew …

The Adventures of Amir Hamza

The Adventures of Amir Hamza, an Indo-Persian epic translated by Musharraf Ali Farooqi, opens as a rollicking tale of war and romance, but turns into a repetitious cycle of fruitless attempts by Hamza to return from fairyland to his one true love. I find his faithful retainer, Amar the prankster, much more interesting a character. Hamza, the idealized hero and lover, is consistently faithful and loyal throughout. Amar, however, is more liable to upset established order. From the wise counselor Buzurjmehr, he receives a special codpiece called an aafat-band. A brocade pouch that protects Amar's testicles when he races, jumps and gambols, it has "flowers and leaves embroidered on it in seven colored silken threads, and a priceless ruby hanging from its sash for a button."

The Adventures have long existed in the South Asian oral narrative tradition of dastan-goi (dastan narrative). They also existed in different versions in multiple handwritten manuscripts. In 1855 they wer…

Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine" (2013)

It is tempting to describe Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine (2013) as a Madoff scheme of A Streetcar Named Desire. Last night at the Lincoln Plaza cinemas with GH, WL and DM, I kept expecting the infusion of Allenesque comedy into the Williamsian tragedy to pay off, but it never did. WL was right in describing the serious scenes as melodramatic. I thought only two minor characters carry whatever moral weight the film possesses. Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), the first husband of Ginger, loses all his money and his chance of setting up his own construction business. Their marriage breaks up. He makes visible the human devastation of Hal's scams. Closer to home, Danny, son of Hal, the Bernie Madoff character played by Alec Baldwin, is the innocent victim of father-worship. The short scene in the music shop, in which Danny (Alden Ehrenreich) pleads with his mother Jasmine to get out of his life, is searing.

Cate Blanchett is fine as the deluded Jasmine, the Blanche character, but even she c…

Write like a Tiger

I read Crisis and Transformation in Seventeenth-Century China mostly because I was interested in the world of Chinese author Li Yu. The historians Chun-shu Chang and Shelley Hsueh-lun Chang use the life of Li Yu as a lens to see the dynamism of the Ming-Qing period. They also show the reverse, how the social and cultural upheavals of the period shaped the course of this innovative playwright, author, intellectual and publisher. They argue:
His first intellectual and professional pursuit, before the demise of the Ming, was his preparation for a career as a scholar-official. After the Manchu conquest, Li Yu became a professional writer, but he was never interested in the study of Neo-Confucian philosophy. Thus, the priority Li Yu placed on his intellectual and professional pursuits coincided with the intellectual and professional trends of his native region. Here again Li Yu becomes a microcosm of the Lan-chi-Chin-hua cultural and intellectual traditions.
The theory under which the book…