18.6.13

the Pathétique, Cultural Revolution style

In a sun-whitened room, my feet up behind the pillows of a leather couch, I repose at an angle that lets me see the orchids framing the bay windows splendidly.  Not far from my face is a bent back book--one of the three I'm currently reading. To my left, on the piano bench, perches Sebastien poised to strike.
A cup of coffee might rest on the crook of my hip, the steam as elegant as the flowers and at least as fragrant. He'll run through some of his favorite morceaux: numbers by Amadeus, preludes by Gershwin, sonatas by Ludwig and Rags by the Greatest of Scotts.  I've just set the stage for our latest morning ritual.
Not pictured: Scott.
I'd like to think I'm some how a part of his progress, that by the power of my proximity and the critiques his performance in-between his pieces and my paragraphs I'm lending the encouragement necessary for him to keep playing. The truth is I just like to be close to music and the people who make it.  I hear him pass from piano to forte, back to piano then on to fortissimo and I remember why I find restraint in the face of passion so sexy. Sound dynamics are the product of precision and dexterity. Translating it from the page to the stage is exciting enough--what must it have felt like to compose such music! How could anyone keep such beautiful secrets to themselves?Contemplating this is as intoxicating to me as going too fast in car who's engine loves changing gears--the draw distance of that reality expanding and contracting as the music traces down a windy road of melody and a chill races up my arm. I have another sip of coffee and turn a page. I'm trying hard to think of my book and appreciate the latest warm trickle of coffee on my tongue as Sebastien works his hands up and down the octaves muttering spontaneously, "Five flats?!" just as an excited man in a white wig throws open large oaken doors in my mind shouting, erstaunlich! 
I'm about hundred pages into Chinese in Ten Words by 余华. I'm enjoying it because Yu Hua  brings a grittiness to his people's history that is missing from the modern American experience. During his chapter describing his love of reading, he talks about having access to a book for only a single night and deciding that transcribing a copy on to a note pad with a friend would be better than returning the book half read. Globally, this book is an autobiography that takes ten concepts such as People, Grassroots and Revolution and shares his personal experience as to what these words mean to him, and how that is or isn't a reflection of the culture and times he grew up in.

Why the sudden interest in Chinese lit? Well, aside from the fact that I'll be moving there in a couple of weeks, none of the books on the Peace Corps suggested reading list were written after 1990. And you barely need to be paying attention to know China has changed dramatically since that epoch. Also, Sebastien's mom bought like five or six books on China and she can't read them all at once, anyway.

At first I was dead set on only reading only books written by Chinese Authors. But then I started skimming Dreaming in Chinese and I found that Deborah Fallows reasons for going to China  compelling. From her I've already learned that there is only the present verb tense in Chinese. In Chinese for example one says, "Yesterday I sing." instead of, "Yesterday I sang."   She's taught me a few more tricks that I mean to have verified by my future language teacher before I trot them out for you.

Sébastien and I have also both read the first short story from Nobel Prize winning novelist, Mo Yan's book, Shifu, You'll Do Anything For a Laugh.
It's a slow to start and ends anticlimactically. Perhaps I am missing all the nuance by not being able to read it in Chinese. From Seba's work in Paris I've grown to appreciate how hard it really is to move from one language to another. Even with literal translations much can be lost. This may be especially true when each Chinese word can actually have five meanings dependent on how you pronounce it. We're going to give the rest of the collection a chance because we're almost done with our Dragonlance novel, anyway. 

I've just finished reading Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris and I was pleased as punch to have another of his short story collections in my hand. His charm and whimsy are as evident as his biting wit in this collection of monologues, essays and short stories---but this book seems somehow more refined in terms of description than many of his others. There are two instances where he evokes color in such a way as to really take me out of the narrative and appreciate him in terms of his craft--kinda like when a musician executes a particularly difficult string of notes and you find yourself in the head space of a brilliant composer.
"Astounding!," you might exclaim sucking in the scented steam of your coffee.
Or is that the orchids you can taste?
No matter, just play it again, Séb.
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