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I am a cat. As yet I have no name. [p.5]

Logo Japanese Literature Read-a-longI started reading I Am a Cat (Wagahai wa Neko dearu) during the 24 hour read-a-thon and finished part 1 on October 31st. I’m reading this classic from 1905-1906 for the Japanese Literature Read-along. I wish I had the edition shown on Wikipedia, because I absolutely love that cover! But the picture on my ‘complete edition’ resembles my own cat Juno, so I am happy with that as well :)

I am a catWhat do I think of the book so far? Unfortunately I read the preface first, so there wasn’t much to find out for myself :\ This way I knew beforehand that the first chapter had been written as a short story, to be published in the journal Hototogisu. Originally it was not meant to be a book at all! But one of the the magazine editors persuaded the author to expand it into a novel because of its success.

I’ll let the introduction introduce the story ;)

[..] though Sōseki’s total book is held together by the continuing theme of a nameless cat’s observations of upper-middle-class Japanese society of the Meiji period, the essence of the book resides in the humor and sardonic truth of those various observations, not in the development of the story.

The preface also gave away that the voice of the cat gets more and more human. I recognized that in the following quote from the 3rd (and last) chapter of volume 1:

The more that humans show me sympathy, the more I am inclined to forget that I am a cat. Feeling that I am now closer to humans than to cats, the idea of rallying my own race in an effort to wrest supremacy from the bipeds no longer has the least appeal. [..] Moreover, I have developed, indeed evolved, to such an extent that there are now times when I think of myself as just another human in the human world.

Reading that, a relation to the song I Am a Kitten became apparent. Momus wrote the piece of music originally in French for the Japanese pop star Kahimi Karie. The booklet of his 20 Vodka Jellies cd even acknowledges that it owes something to this “excellent novel”.

The song is about a cat falling in love with a human being (= impossible love). I don’t think that’s going to happen in Natsume’s story, but you never know ;) Here’s Momus singing I Am a Kitten (in English), while you read along. We’ll save Kahimi’s performance for another time ;)

And though I’d love to be loved
The gods ordained it that
You were made a human being
And I turned out a cat
(I am a kitten)

[complete lyrics]

Cover I Am A CatBack to the novel. I’m not really sure what to think of it. Of course it’s interesting to read about Japanese intellectuals and their surroundings in early 20th century — seen through the eyes of a cat. But how realistic is it? And what is there to ‘learn’ about Japan it if I can’t determine that? Okay, I admit to not having a taste for satire. And yes, I’m embarrased to say so; it’s like confessing to not having a sense of humor — in other words being a sourpuss :\

Anywho. Aside from the above, I am not able to identify with the cat, even though it is portrayed lifelike (that is to say: the way we humans perceive feline characters). And this time it can’t be designated my shortcoming because in Barbara Gowdy’s book The White Bone I actually imagined I was the elephant Mud.

Am I not enjoying the read-along of I Am a Cat? Oh yes I am! :)

I really had to laugh about a scene where ‘the cat’ — I am going to baptize it Neko here and now — gets its jaw stuck in a rice cake. JumboI transcribed part of it for a mini challenge in the 24 hour read-a-thon, but it actually goes on for several pages and it is very evocative.

I guess this novel, for me, is about cherishing specific quotes; I’ve jotted many down in my notebook. In my blogpost about the graphic novel Coraline I have already talked about reading synchronisity on the basis of some similar quotes. But I was also affected by a scene in which ‘Neko’ finds Rickshaw Blacky sunbathing in his garden. This part reminded me very much of our belated tomcat Jumbo (who was HUGE and named Jumbo because of that by the animal shelter when he was only a few weeks old). He was a shy guy btw, not some bully like the cat of the rickshaw owner ;)

[..] and there I saw an enormous cat fast asleep on a bed of withered chrysanthemums, which his weight had flattened down. [..] there he was, stretched out at full length and snoring loudly. I was amazed at the daring courage that permitted him, a tresspasser, to sleep so unconcernedly in someone else’s garden. He was a pure black cat. The sun of earliest afternoon was pouring its most brilliant rays upon him, and it seemed as invisible flames were blazing out from his glossy fur. He had a magnificent physique; the physique, one might say, of the Emperor of Catdom. [p.9-10]

In conclusion I just think the cat(s) in the story interest me, and not so much the storylines about the people. Yes, I am a cat person :)

For surely even humans will not flourish forever. I think it best to wait in patience for the Day of the Cats. [p.7]

Part 2 of I Am a Cat needs to be read (and reviewed) before December 15th and the final part in the middle of January 2010. To be continued…

Note: I had a hard time deciding whether I should write Natsume Sōseki or Sōseki Natsume. The Western way would be Sōseki Natsume, since Natsume is the writer’s last name. But the Japanese put their family names first. In the end I considered decisive that 1) in my museum profession author and creator names are usually documented in the way the person presents him-/herself publicly and 2) that is probably also why I know the author by the name Natsume Sōseki best myself.

Since I Am a Cat is a Japanese Classic I’ve also admitted it to Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge and the 2009 Classics Challenge.

Here’s my review of part 2!

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Today is Japanese Culture Day — and statistically also the best day of the year in Japan regarding weather. Well, we’ve had some strange weather here on the other side of the globe: cold, autumn sun, rain and hard winds all taking turns. Culture Day is celebrated as such since 1948 but it was already a national holiday in 1868; November 3rd being the birthday of the great Meiji Emperor.

Bento #85 is not about Japanese culture, and not really about Dutch culture either. But it is about heritage! It is stuffed with Indonesian food, and of course the Dutch have a colonial history in the (Dutch) East Indies. So does my family… :\ As a result you can wake me up anytime just for some good asian food! I guess the hardest part of becoming a vegetarian was that I wouldn’t be able to eat anymore saté, rendang, or ajam pedis… :( I’ve drafted a blogpost about my search for vegetarian lemper some time ago — I hope to finish it soon ;)

Now, about today’s bento.

Bento #85

Upper tier

  • Asian salad of white cabbage, red and yellow bell pepper, fennel, gherkin and a soy dressing (adapted from Culinette)
  • sweet red pepper
  • red Batavia lettuce
  • nasi goreng with leek and onion
  • shiitake mushroom

Lower tier

  • boiled egg with African peper spices on gherkin slices
  • parsley
  • lettuce
  • emping (in a container I borrowed from my aunt to test its size)

We also had some leftover tumis cabbage & tofu, but I didn’t think that would taste to great cold. Although most Indonesian dishes can very well be eaten at room temperature! They’re best when they have had some time to rest anyway, so that the flavors get a chance to blend.

BTW I did eat this bento in my museum office — does that count for Culture Day? ;)

CSA (& organic): cabbage, fennel, sweet red pepper, Batavia lettuce, leek, parsley.
Organic: onion, shiitake mushroom, egg.

I’m a bit late with posting my bento of Thursday October 22th: Sōkō Bentō.

In Japan certain days have special names to mark the changes in season. Sōkō 霜降, on October 23rd, is one of these 24 sekki: Frost Descent (the descent of temperature and appearance of frost). Well, Thursday was indeed cold. But we’ve actually had some night frost earlier in the month! Of course, I’m situated on the other side of the globe to Japan ;)

teahouseLiving in accordance to the seasons comes so naturally to Japanese / Asian people. I  really wish I had it in me too — which I experienced even more strongly when I read The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery, my favourite read of 2008! Unfortunately I don’t think it is something one could learn :(

Anyway, it’s obvious I got my date wrong… I thought I had read somewhere this year’s Sōkō was on the 22nd but I can’t retrace it. For people who are more well-informed about Japan than I am and believe I also got the name wrong: please let me know what you think Frost Descent is called! I actually came across several names and decided to rely on Wikipedia ;) Others terms include Shousetsu (しょうせつ) and Shimo Ori.

Now, what’s the contents of bento #82?
Clockwise…

Upper tier
Salad of different types of lettuce, tomato and meikaas (‘May cheese’ a very young cheese of 1-7 days; it tastes a bit like halloumi), which is vegetarian because of its microbial rennet made of mushrooms. On top a watercress leaf and some parsley. Next to that a roasted orange squash dish with red onion and pepita’s (pumpkin seeds).

Lower tier
Sweet & spicy couscous with cinnamon and cranberries, sprinkled with some more parsley. Two un-sulphuretted apricots with an almond inside for the bite, a container of roasted almonds as couscous topping and some big capers.

Quite a lot of whites because of frost descend :) Pumpkin and apricot being fall products, some red berries heralding winter. Of course the young cheese is quite out of tune here, but it can be conceived as the pureness of cold nights & early frost. Likewise, the texture of couscous reminds me of snow or hoarfrost.

CSA (& organic): lettuce, tomato, pumpkin, parsley.
Organic: watercress, red onion, apricots.

This post is dedicated to elm@, who prefers my bento blogs to the bookish things I write about. I hope she’ll find this one satisfactory ;)

After I went on a biking trip to Austerlitz Pyramid I started reading Martin Bril’s book The Little Emperor (De kleine keizer in Dutch). Its subtitle is Account of a Passion, describing the author’s quest in search of Napoleon Bonaparte. That means I am participating in the What’s in a Name reading challenge with another non-fiction book (category: profession)!

The monument in Austerlitz was built in 1804 by the army of general Marmont, to celebrate the French ruling of Holland. Inspired by his adventures with Napoleon in Egypt, he let his soldiers make a pyramid… At first it was called Mount Marmont but soon Louis Napoleon of Holland renamed the structure, commemorating the victory of his brother in Austrian Austerlitz. To be honest this folly isn’t really impressive in real life…

But my trip to this historic site was (of course) not the main reason for wanting to read Martin Bril’s book about Napoleon. My interest was triggered by the first paragraph (in Dutch but I’ll paraphrase afterwards):

“De kist staat open. Op het eerste gezicht zit er niets in, anders dan wat proppen wit, zacht ritselend papier. Eén voor één haalt Mark van Hattem, conservator van het Legermuseum in Delft, ze eruit. Bijna eerbiedig legt hij ze terzijde.
Hij wordt op de vingers gekeken door een jonge, stille Fransman in dienst van het Musée de l’Armée in Parijs – waar de kist vandaan komt. [..] De sfeer is bijna plechtig, hoewel elders in de zaal wordt geboord en gezaagd. De voorbereidingen voor de tentoonstelling ‘Voor Napoleon. Hollanders in oorlogstijd, 1792-1815‘ zijn in volle gang.
Als bijna alle proppen uit de kist zijn verwijderd, blijft er een groot, wit pakket over. Aan de vorm is te zien wat erin zit, zo beroemd (of berucht) is die vorm: een steek, Napoleons hoofddeksel. Van Hattem aarzelt, mag hij het pakket uit de kist tillen? Hij kijkt naar de vertegenwoordiger van het Musée de l’Armée, die glimlacht.”

The paragraph describes Bril’s visit to the Dutch Army Museum in Delft, where he was allowed to witness the unpacking of Napoleon’s cocked hat in preparation of an exhibtion about the emperor’s time in Holland. And… I was working at the museum at that time! When the curator and the French supervisor weren’t paying attention for a minute, Bril managed to secretly touch this relic of Napoleon for a minute! Sssshhht! ;)

Cover De kleine keizerIn The Little Emperor Martin Bril reports of his Napoleon craze: for a long time he read everything about the man and he went on a pilgrimage to several historically important sites to get a feeling of ‘the events’. He paints a vivid image of Napoleon Bonaparte as a person — and also of himself as an author. His enthusiasm is contagious, his short chapters are easily readable and most times arresting.

A few days before he died in april this year, Martin Bril was awarded the Bob den Uyl Prize for The Little Emperor. The annual award is given to the author of the best literary and/or journalistic travelogue of the previous year. I’m afraid the book hasn’t been translated into other languages (yet). But there are a lot of Napoleon aficionados around the globe that might be waiting for another prize-winning book about the emperor? So you never know what happens next.

It would be cool to bookcross my copy of The Little Emperor at the Pyramid of Austerlitz… But nah, I’ll just keep it as a memento! ;)

YAY! Gimme a lunch break like today a n y t i m e ! :)

LOOK!

Call me weird but after peeling off the first layer of packaging, I left the promising boxes unopened for about 15 minutes ;)

I’ve been crazy about furoshiki’s ever since I heard of their existence. At the time that was not related to bento at all but to giving presents — hey I love gift wrapping, beautiful textiles and paper as well! Not forgetting traditions and preservation ;)

Up until now I only had 2 small furoshiki’s fitting my bento’s: 1 spring, 1 autumn. Having just that pair made me extra careful with them :\ So… now I’ve got some new Japanese wrapping cloths to play with! :)

Most bento-ers know where to find the instructable for furoshiki wrapping techniques, but for those who don’t: go to the Ministry of the Environment Government of Japan! Yes, really.

My new treasures are designed by two different artists: Ichiro Tsuruta and Sybilla. Are you tempted to see my furoshiki’s unpacked? You might soon!

*** Real fans of Japanese presents and avid readers might also like Joy Hendry’s study of Wrapping Culture on Google books! Not just about furoshiki but the whole world of gift giving :) ***

I’m not superstitious and I don’t believe Friday the 13th means bad luck. Hey, on Fridays it’s almost W.E.E.K.E.N.D.! But Monday the 13th… Yaiks, that’s something else indeed! I don’t like Mondays… And now both July and August bring us that black day :(

Today I hoped to balance things out a bit by bringing bento #61 to work: 6 + 1 = lucky number 7! :)

First tier:

  • bed of romaine lettuce
  • pesto egg with sundried tomato
  • carrot
  • hot pepper (from the balcony) with houmous
  • slice of cucumber
  • cauliflower florets
  • black olives
  • pine nuts

I also added some walnut after making the picture.

Second tier:

  • mexican nut mix (‘pepita mix‘)
  • carrot sticks
  • seedless grapes
  • pasta salad (corn, hot pepper, (fresh & sundried) tomato, pine nuts, pesto, basil, red tofu)

This bento really helped me get through my busy day! :)

Of course macaroni rigate is a bit too large for a real pasta salad but I am not small-minded when it comes to using leftovers!

BTW: did you spot the 3 song titles in this post??? Answers behind the cut :)

Een belangrijk onderdeel van mijn hamsteruitdaging zijn UCO’s: Unidentified Cooking Objects. Daarmee bedoel ik producten die ik moeilijk kan verwerken omdat ik niet weet wat je ermee moet doen — of zelfs wat het is! Vaak komt dat doordat er geen instructies zijn… of in een voor mij onbegrijpelijke taal :) Dat vraagt om research en daardoor blijft het liggen ;)

Zo ook mijn ochazuke. Maar nadat ik dit kleurrijke pakje uit mijn kast enige tijd geleden had geïdentificeerd, heb ik het in juni eindelijk uitgeprobeerd!

Een zakje ochazuke (of chazuke) bevat gesnipperd zeewier met kruiden en verpulverde rijstcrackers dat je bij een restje rijst doet en overgiet met sencha (groene thee). Een soort Japanse cup-a-soup ;)

Helaas smaakte het niet erg geweldig als hoofdmaaltijd; we vonden het nogal flauw. Maar dat is vast mijn eigen schuld omdat ik het met een kliekje Thaise pandanrijst maakte in plaats van witte rijst of Japanse sushi. En ik moet bekennen dat de houdbaarheidsdatum al een half jaar (!) was verlopen, dus misschien is de smaak gewoon vervlogen! :\ Ik heb nog 2 porties over: volgende keer doe ik er een beetje miso of dashi door (geen thee, er zit toch al theepoeder in) en gebruik ik zéker een betere rijst. Ja hoor, dat durf ik best met zo’n zakkie over datum ;)

Recept ochazuke per portie (zakje 6 gram): 100 gram, liefst warme, gare rijst en 150 ml kokend water, (Japanse) groene thee of dashi (Japanse bouillon). Yes, that’s really all folks :)

Ochazuke is dus eigenlijk ‘koken met kliekjes’. In Kyoto heet het trouwens bubuzuke, zoals een geisha daar opeens geiko heet. Wanneer iemand uit die stad je vraagt of je bubuzuke wilt eten, kun je dat opvatten als beleefd verzoek om te vertrekken: je bent als gast te lang blijven plakken! :-o

Maar jullie hoeven niet weg, hoor ;) Stay tuned voor de laatste blogpost over juni’s hamsteretappe; ook dat was een UCO!

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