mjj (flemmings) wrote,

Another country

  • 'But still there's the Met.' There is always the Met, thank god, and always with paleaswater as guide. This time around was the Yuan dynasty, the Mongols who were seduced in short order by Chinese civilization and stopped riding shaggy ponies and settled down to the pleasures of civilization. Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, from our pov.
    After assuming imperial power Khubilai discontinued the Chinese system of state examinations through which scholars had traditionally gained court and civil appointments. By ending the exams — which they, of course, could not have passed — the Mongols effectively disenfranchised an entire intellectual class.

    That class included artists, some of whom responded by creating a kind of anti-establishment painting: private, self-expressive and semi-abstract, closely related to writing, and conceived on an intimate scale. For many, this was a form of protest art, one that would have tremendous influence in the centuries ahead.
    There's a second exhibit about this art, from the Met's own collection, which my banged up knee prevented me from seeing. But I was delighted by a sample of calligraphy in the main exhibit, from a master who perfected a bold simple style so clear that it was adopted as the form used in printed books of the Ming dynasty.

    (And no, really, this rank amateur didn't notice the lack of incisive curatorial analysis. Some pearls are wasted on swine.)

  • paleaswater's mum makes a wonderful latte, which she insists is the essence of simplicity with her wonderful latte maker. Should have noted its name for my own reference, because it does seem to be a very straightforward operation and not, as a friend once described using a Gaggia, as complicated as driving stick-shift. But I have a happy memories of breakfasting with paleaswater's mum, as the morning light streamed into the depths of the apartment and I ate potato bread toast and peanut butter. And in intervals puzzled over her Chinese newspaper, published by a Taiwanese and hence in trad hanzi, and more comprehensible than expected, once I'd twigged that 習近平 is a name.

  • I never have dim sum at home since I'm shy about going by myself, but maybe I'll start. Because dim sum with paleaswater and nojojojo was splendid. Soup dumplings are splendid. Sesame balls are splendid. (Though the sesame balls here are not except the ones at a now-closed bakery, so maybe our soup dumplings fall short as well.)

    I'd also start eating dhosa, except that TO's south Indian restaurants are as far away from where I live as New Jersey's are from where paleaswater does.

  • Chinatown has narrow bendy streets, something I miss uptown and, for that matter, at home. Old cities have narrow bendy streets as well as the broad boulevards-- London, Paris, Amsterdam. Tokyo is nothing *but* bendy streets, narrow or otherwise (not exactly true, by the way, but true enough.) Chinatown crowds are like Tokyo ones: rather too many people for the street width available to fill. I liked it a lot; it feels like home. And by home, I mean Tokyo.

  • nojojojo, or perhaps I should say nojojojo's voice, is so incisive and authoritative online that it's always a surprise to see how low-key mellow she is in person. She gave me an advance copy of The Broken Kingdoms which I shall read as soon as I finish this run of Aubrey-Maturin, or until I get tired of Aubrey-Maturin, whichever comes first. Am not sure it's advisable to read it on the muscle relaxants and painkillers I'm still taking. Brisk naval engagements counteract drugs; unpleasant gods, not so much; and I vaguely recall The 100,000 Kingdoms giving me a strong sense of disquiet and menace which, well, I'd like to be prepared to handle.

  • M showed me the first and to me dreamlike part of Mei Lanfang. We stopped abruptly at the first appearance of Leon Lai whose face, sorry, is *all wrong*. To say nothing of the ghostly presence of Uncle Ming behind every scene Qi Rushan was in, indicating how it ought to have been acted.

    I need to get a better handle on the early republic period in China. I only know it from a handful of films, and even fewer manga, which make it sound as energetic, tumultuous, and mythic a time as films and manga (and TV dramas, let us never forget) do the Bakumatsu. I suspect the actual history of the republic is about as bloody and confusing as Bakumatsu-- revolutionaries, wars, hooligans and the occasional statesman; but boy, does early Republic have more style than the fall of the Shogun. Aesthetically I suspect its opposite number in Japan is Taishou; or at the least, early Meiji. (Though the wikipedia article makes it look, in Japanese terms, as if the Bakumatsu of the early republic had been succeeded by the Warring States of the warlords period, instead of by dull determined statesmen in frock coats and monocles.)

  • The autumn colours going down were splendid, especially in the Rochester-Syracuse-Utica area: burgeoning cumulus of reddish ochre and gold and orange. But they were seen through that tinted glass that makes autumn colours look splendid even when, as on the return trip, the day is pale overcast and the actual landscape, as seen between train cars, is straw-coloured. But I observe, on these last few days back home, that what's straw colour under clouds is a blazaglory in the sun. So maybe those glowing forests surrounding the mansions of upper New York State really were wonderful.

    The Hudson banks going back weren't actually all that much, even through glass. But it was a misty morning, and the first hour out of New York was all spare tree branches against grey, and mist rising from the hills as in Japan; and at least once those hills were a deep unfallen red, which was stunning.

  • I brought my compass this time, the one that used to tell me directions underground in Tokyo. Now it tells me directions aboveground in NY Penn. Some day I'll get NY Penn straight, but not soon; I have only just managed to place things in Newark Penn. Maybe if I had a map...

  • The trip began with a malfunctioning escalator at Union Station, a bad omen; but the trip down was clear sailing. 'We haven't had to stop for a freight train once,' a conductor said near Poughkeepsie, and I begged that remark wouldn't jinx it. Nor did it-- we arrived five minutes early to a NJT train waiting on the platform and about to leave (the sign said) in two minutes. The two were more like seven, but no matter. Punctual and available NJT was a hallmark of the weekend, quite making up for the subway delay that required us to take a bus down to Penn Stn. So now I've ridden on a New York bus as well, and my but bus riders are even chattier than train riders.

    The trip ended with a malfunctioning escalator at NY Penn, but instead of an alternate escalator they required us to use the stairs, making me regret not having requested disabled assistance. My suitcase was carryable one hand ('one hand for the suitcase and one for yourself') but the experience was not pleasant. And this time there were the usual delays as well, so we got in almost an hour late. Also NY taxis are ridiculously cheap. TO ones start at what it cost us to get from the NYTC to Chinatown.
Tags: art, china, film, food, history, place, rl_10, woxin

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