Wonders like these

 

Everyone lives the way she knows best. What I mean by "their happiness" is living a life untouched as much as possible by the knowledge that we are really, all of us, alone. 
(Kitchen, Banana Yoshimoto)

This afternoon everything was standing still, all was calm, the wind ceased its rattling, the sparrows in the bushes sat fluffed in silence, everything frozen under an enormous pale sky. I wanted to be part of this calm and took myself out for a walk, listening to an audio book on my cell phone once again, making my way over the ice on the wooded path, feeling the jolt of the heat run through me with each slip and the occasional crackling sound in my headphones as the cold gripped the wires.

I keep thinking of that first snowfall in February, when the snowflakes fluttered down and covered everything in a thick blanket of white. The snow was so remarkable that day, and all through the evening, the sky glowed in hues of violet and orange. We stood by the kitchen window and watched it coming down, even with the light switched off it looked as though night never came. I tried to take photographs but the results failed to capture how magical it truly was.

I keep thinking of how everything is shaped in the context of memories. I came across a passage in a book that made me laugh, the part about an NSU Prinz that goes aflame every time its owners placed their groceries or passengers on the seat where the metal springs made contact with the car battery. I remembered sitting in the back seat of a car as a child in the winter, dangling my legs while my parents were inspecting something under the hood. It was cold and I could see my breath clouds inside. The car had caught on fire because my parents turned on the heat, and my dad was waving his hat at the flames. Seeing the look of horror on my mom's face told me I had to get out, and I opened the door and fell face down into the snow. I was okay and the fire put out, but my dad singed his hat. I wonder how much of that memory is actually true, or if it something I built in my mind from the stories I heard growing up.

I keep thinking how I am subconsciously creating a shared experience in an effort to connect. Somedays I brew the same tea for myself, read the same books a friend or stranger recommends, watch the same series on Netflix, all in an effort to experience the same context. When our eyes gaze at the moon we are looking at the same object and each seeing something different, existing alongside another in this shared space - alone, but not alone. The world is full of wonders like these.



Only thieves and children run

 

From him I learned how to wash substances to rid them of impurities and bring out the true colors. (Girl with a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier)

I read Girl with a Pearl Earring in one sitting. I wanted to know what happens to Griet, the intelligent and beautiful young woman constrained under the eyes and hands of men. I found it most telling how often the author described Griet's observation of hands, touch, and the looks she felt cast her way. Her father's hands were stained blue from his trade, the butcher and his son had bloodied fingernails, her own hands became "workers hands" at a young age, while she and Vermeer cleansed their hands after mixing colors in his studio.

She learned to see "the true colors" in people, their real desires and intentions. Everyone in her life was tainted, dirtied, and only the master's gaze and hands "pure." I don't think the master had ill intentions, but he obviously used his authority for his own benefit.

I like how the statement "only thieves and children run" came up twice in the novel as well as the image of the spinning knife on a floor. I saw the knife as a dial on a compass, with Griet standing in the center of the eight-pointed star in her town and ultimately making the decision that would better her life under the circumstances. She wasn't a thief but a child who had to grow up quickly. 
 

Truly great people emit a light that warms the hearts of those around them.

 

Truly great people emit a light that warms the hearts of those around them. When that light has been put out, a heavy shadow of despair descends. (Kitchen, Yoshimoto Banana)
Kitchen is a heartfelt story told by Mikage, the narrator, a young woman orphaned in a big house after the last of her family members (her grandmother) passes away. Grieving and alone, the hum of the refrigerator lulls her to sleep and the kitchen is the only place she feels at ease. Her kind neighbor, Yuichi, and his unconventional mother, Eriko, invite her to stay in their home to help her cope. The kitchen becomes the focal point where Mikage enjoys preparing meals for the three of them, where they come together as a family. Mikage forms a bond with the two of them and after an unforeseeable loss, develops a deeper friendship with Yuichi. She settles back in her home alone and thrives in a new job as a cooking assistant while Yuichi struggles with life, the two of them growing more intertwined in their shared grief. The love story reminded me of Fumi, the narrator in Love Songs from Asleep, where she described a haunting voice that touches "the area of [her] heart that was the most tightly clenched, helping those knots to loosen."

I was surprised to find Moonlight Shadow, Banana Yoshimoto's first novella, included in Kitchen. In Moonlight Shadow, the narrator mourns the death of her boyfriend with his brother. Through a series of magical events, she is able to say goodbye to her loved one and find it in herself to move on. Banana Yoshimoto credits a Mike OIdfield song with the same title as inspiration for the story. Moonlight Shadow feels like a much more compact and romanticized story, sharing the same theme of love and loss. I am certain the English translation doesn't do it justice, but found Kitchen more moving than Moonlight Shadow. A part of me still wonders what Yuichi decided after he finished the katsudon Mikage brought him, did he agree to "go on to more difficult, happier places, whatever comes, together" with her? 
 

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