Main character is never named.
Living as a portrait painter in Tokyo. Never wanted to be a portrait painter, but was told he has a knack for it and found himself doing it with little to no thinking.
His wife suddenly divorced him and he goes on a long road trip in northern Japan, eventually ending up in a cabin that his friend’s painter father used to live in.
At end of book, goes back to that life with his wife Yuzu and their new daughter Muro. Does not know whether she is his daughter or not – and seems to have no intention of figuring out, similar to Menshiki (though with wildly different results than Menshiki).
Hinted the Menshiki was going to be a rapist – or have some other horrible aspect to his personality – with the Bluebeard room, but it ended up just being remembering his dead girlfriend and potential mother of his daughter.
Shoko never told the main character what book she was reading.
Main character goes to mountains, gets lost in land of ideas, finally makes it back to reality in the end. He literally has to kill an Idea – the Commendatore – to ultimately get home, crossing treacherous Double Metaphors in the process. Mariye similarly got lost in land of ideas, but those ideas were about Menshiki.
Pg 56 – “After he took up painting Japanese-style art, his works all had something unique that only he could paint, and he himself was well aware of this. He always strode confidently toward the core of that special something. No more did you get the impression, as with his Western paintings, of something missing. It was less a shift and more akin to a conversion.”
Pg 57 – “If you pay close attention you can see that from a certain point on he painted exactly what he wanted to paint. From then on his brush seemed to freely leap across the canvas. The wonderful part about his paintings was the use of blank space. Paradoxically, the best part was what was not depicted. By not painting certain things he clearly accentuated what he did want to paint. This is undoubtably one of the areas that Japanese painting excels at. At least I’d never seen such bold use of blank space in any Western paintings. Seeing this, I could somehow understand why Tomohiko Amada converted to painting Japanese art. But what I didn’t understand was exactly when and how he made that daring conversion and put into practice.”
Pg 59 – Timing – “For Tomohiko Amada, after being in the spotlight as a promising painter of Western art, and then going to study in Vienna, it must have been a trying experience to maintain total silence for over six years, forgotten by the art world. But he was not the type to easily lose heart. When the long war was finally over, and as people struggled to recover from the chaos, a reborn Tomohiko Amada debuted again, this time as an up-and-coming painter in the Japanese style. One by one he displayed the works he’d completed during the war. This was the period when most artists, having painted stirring propaganda pieces, were forced to take responsibility for their actions and, under the watchful eye of the Occupation, were fairly compelled into retirement. Which is precisely why Tomohiko’s works, revealing the possibility of a revolution in Japanese painting, garnered so much attention. The times, one could say, were his ally.”
Pg 76 – Trickster – “And what was the significance of that figure in the bottom left, the man with the long face sticking his head out from underground? In Mozart’s Don Giovanni no one liked that appeared. There must have been a reason Tomohiko Amada had added him. Also in the opera Donna Anna didn’t actually witness her father being stabbed to death. She was off asking her lover, the knight Don Ottavio, for help. By the time they got back to the scene, her father had already breathed his last. Amada had—no doubt for dramatic purposes—subtly changed the way the scene played out. But there was no way the man sticking his head out of the ground was Don Ottavio. That man’s features weren’t anything found in this world. It was impossible that this was the upright, righteous knight who could help Donna Anna.
Was he a demon from hell? Scouting out the situation in anticipation of dragging Don Giovanni down to hell? But he didn’t look like a demon or devil. A demon wouldn’t have such strangely sparkling eyes. A devil wouldn’t push a square wooden lid up and peak out. The figure more resembled a trickster who had come to intervene. ‘Long Face’ is what I called him, for lack of a better term.”
Pg 77 – Brimming with energy – “The painting was amazing. As far as I knew, though, it wasn’t reprinted in any collection of Amada’s work, which meant no one else knew it existed. If it were made public it would no doubt become one of his best-known paintings. If they held a retrospective of his art, it wouldn’t be surprising if this was the painting used one the promotional poster. This wasn’t simply a painting that was wonderfully done, though. The painting was brimming with an extraordinary sort of energy. Anyone with even a little knowledge of art couldn’t miss that fact. There was something in this painting that appealed to the deepest part of the viewer’s heart, something suggestive that enticed the imagination to another realm.”
Hack Club should feel like this.
Pg 89 – Great prose describing Menshiki shortly after the main character met him for the first time – “A slight look of confusion came over him. And when he looked confused, several tiny wrinkles appeared at the corners of his eyes. Charming wrinkles. His features, viewed individually, were all quite attractive—the eyes almond shaped and slightly deep set, the forehead noble and broad, the eyebrows thick and nicely defined, the nose thin and a nice size. Eyes, eyebrows, and nose that perfectly fit his his smallish face. His face was a bit small, yet too broad in a way, and from a purely aesthetic viewpoint was a little imbalanced. The vertical and horizontal were out of sync, though this disparity wasn’t necessarily a defect. It’s what gave his face its distinctiveness, since it was this imbalance that conversely gave the viewer a sense of calm. If his features had been too perfectly symmetrical people might have felt a bit of antipathy, or wariness, toward him. But was it was, his ever-so-slightly unbalanced features had a calming effect on anyone meeting him for the first time. They broadcast, in a friendly way, ‘It’s all good, not to worry. I’m not a bad person. I don’t plan to do anything bad to you.’
The pointed, largish tips of his his ears were slightly visible through his neatly trimmed hair. They conveyed a sense of freshness, of vigor, reminding me of spry little mushrooms in a forest, peeking out form among the fallen leaves on an autumn morning just after it had rained. His mouth was broad, the thin lips neatly closed in a line, diligently prepared to, at any moment, break into a smile.
One could call him handsome. And he actually was. Yet his features rejected that sort of casual description, neatly circumventing it. His face was too lively, its movements too subtle to simply abide by that label. The expressions that rose on his features weren’t calculated, but looked more like they’d arisen naturally, spontaneously. If they weren’t, then he was quite the actor. But I got he impression that wasn’t the case.”
Pg 95 – Prose (Menshiki) – “He smiled, the lines at his eyes deepening. A very clean, open smile. But that can’t be all, I thought. There was something hidden inside him. A secret locked away in a small box and buried deep down in the ground. Buried a long time ago, with soft green grass now growing above it. And the only person in the world who knew the location of the box was Menshiki. I couldn’t help but sense, deep within his smile, a solitude that comes from a certain sort of secret.”
Pg 99 – Prose – “‘Agreed. Which is why maybe it’s stuck in a corner of my mind. But I can’t remember when I heard it, or in what context. It feels like when you have a small fishbone stuck in your throat.‘”
Pg 264 – Music – “I started with a deep red, an edgy, offbeat green, and a grayish black. These were the colors the man wanted. It took a while to mix the right colors. As I went through this process I put on the record of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. With that music playing, it felt like the Commendatore would appear behind me at any minute, though he didn’t.”
Pg 273 – Film – “The mansion was surrounded by a high white wall, with a solid gate in front. Large wooden double doors painted a dark brown. Like the castle gate in an Akira Kurosawa film set in the Middle Ages.”
Pg 275 – Prose & Music – “The ceiling was high, the lighting subdued. Refined indirect lighting on the walls, a few floor lamps, and reading lamps on the tables. At the back of the room was a black grand piano. I’d never seen a Steinway concert grand piano in a room like this, \one that made it seem smaller than it was. On top of the piano was a metronome and sheet music. Perhaps Menshiki played. Or maybe he invited Maurizio Pollini over for dinner every once in a while.”
Pg 276 – Art – “Overall, though, the room was modestly decorated, and I felt relieved. There was nothing excessive, but it didn’t have an empty feeling. A comfortable room, despite the size. There was a certain sense of warmth about it, you might say. Half a dozen tasteful paintings graced the walls, all modestly displayed. One of them looked like a real Léger, but I could have been mistaken.”
Pg 276 – Alcohol – “‘Would you care for a cocktail?’ he asked me. ‘Please order whatever you’d like.’
‘I’ll have a Balalaika,’ I said, after considering it for a few seconds. Not that I really wanted a Balalaika, but I wanted to test the young bartender to see if he could really make any kind of drink.”
Pg 277 – Food / Alcohol – “The young man from before appeared, carrying two cocktails on a silver tray. The cocktail glasses were exquisitely cut crystal. Baccarat, would be my guess. They glittered in the light from the floor lamp. Next to them was a Koimari ceramic plate with slices of various cheeses and cashews.”
Pg 278 – Alcohol – “Menshiki and I picked up our cocktail glasses and made a toast. He toasted the completion of his portrait, and I thanked him. We lightly put our kips to the rim of the glasses. A Balalaika is made of one part each of vodka, Cointreau, and lemon juice. A simple concoction, but unless it’s as bitingly freezing as the North Pole, it doesn’t taste good. If somebody who doesn’t have the right touch mixes it, it ends up tasting diluted, watery. This Balalaika was amazingly delicious, with an almost perfect bite to it.”
Pg 280 – Literature – “‘Exactly,’ Menshiki said. ‘Even without abstract thought or metaphysical theorizing, just standing on two legs and using clubs gave mankind more than enough skill to win the race for survival on earth. Those other abilities aren’t that necessary. And in exchange for our hyper-capable cerebral cortexes, of necessity we have to give up lots of other physical abilities. For example, dogs have a sense of smell several thousand times better than humans, and a sense of hearing tens of times better. But we’re able to amass complex hypotheses. We’re able to compare and contrast the cosmos and the microcosmos, and appreciate Van Gogh and Mozart. We can read Proust—if you want to, that is—and collect Koimari porcelain and Persian rugs. Not something a dog can do.’
‘Marcel Proust used a sense of smell inferior to that of a dog’s to write his lengthy novel.'”
Pg 281 – Architecture – “A large office desk faced away from one wall, with two computers on top, a desktop model and a laptop. There were a couple of cups holding pens and pencils, and a neat pile of paperwork. On another wall was a beautiful, expensive-looking stereo set, and on the opposite wall, facing directly across from the desk, sat a pair of tall, narrow speakers. They were about my height (five feet eight), the cases made of high-quality mahogany. An Art Deco armchair for reading and listening to music was in the middle of the room, and next to it a stainless-steel standing lamp for reading. I imagined that Menshiki spent a large part of his days alone in this room.”
Pg 282 – Music – “Menshiki used a remote control to turn on some music at just the right low volume. A Schubert string quartet I was familiar with. Composition D804. The sound coming out of those speakers was clear, fine-grained, refined, and elegant. Compared with the sound from the speakers in Tomohiko Amada’s home, which had a simpler, unadorned tone, it seemed like different music altogether.”
Pg 286 – Music – “As he enjoyed the champagne, Menshiki talked about opera. About how, on a trip to Sicily, he saw a spectacular performance of Verdi’s Ernani at the Catania opera house. The person seated next to him sang along with the performers, all the while snacking on mandarin oranges. And how he’d had some amazing champagne there.”
Pg 287 – Food / Alcohol – “The meal was served at this point. There was an open serving slot between the kitchen and the dining room and the bow-tied, ponytailed young man brought each dish placed there one by one to our table. For a first course, we had a beautiful dish of organic vegetables and fresh isaki fish. Accompanied by white wine. The ponytailed young man uncorked the bottle as carefully as if he were an explosives expert handling a land mine. No explanation of what kind of wine it was or where it was from, though of course it was superb. Menshiki wasn’t about to serve a less-than-perfect wine.
approximately 40cm in length for adult fish
After that we were served a salad of lotus root, calamari, and white beans. Then a sea turtle soup. The fish dish was monkfish.
picture lotus root added to this and the celery removed
sea turtle soup
‘It’s a bit early in the season for it, but I heard that down at the harbor they got hold of some excellent monkfish,’ Menshiki said. The fish was certainly fresh and amazing. Firm texture, a refined sweetness, but still a clean aftertaste. Lightly steamed, then served with (what I took to be) a tarragon sauce.
monkfish tail with tarragon sauce
Next came thick venison steaks. There was again an explanation of the special sauce, but it was so full of specialized terms I couldn’t remember half of it. At any rate, a wonderfully fragrant sauce.
The ponytailed young man poured red wine into our glasses. Menshiki explained that the bottle had been opened an hour before and decanted.
‘It’s breathed nicely, and it should be just the peak time to drink it.’
I knew nothing about aerating wine, but it had a deep flavor. When your tongue first encountered it, then when you held it in your mouth, and finally when you drank it down, the flavor was different each time. It was like a mysterious woman whose beauty changes slightly depending on the angle and light. The wine left a pleasant aftertaste.
‘It’s Bordeaux,’ Menshiki said. ‘I won’t sing its praises. Just know it’s a Bordeaux.'”
Pg 288 – Food – “An hour and a half later, Menshiki and I finally arrived at dessert (a soufflé) and espresso. A long but fulfilling journey. For the first time, the chef came out of the kitchen and over to the dining table. A tall man, in a white chef’s outfit. In his mid-thirties would be my guess, with a sparse black beard.”
Pg 289 – Alcohol – “Menshiki suggested an after-dinner drink, but I declined. I was so full I really couldn’t manage anything else. He had a brandy.
‘There was something that I wanted to ask you,’ Menshiki said as he slowly swirled the brandy in the oversized glass.”
Pg 302 – History – “‘That’s right. Amada was apparently caught up in an aborted assassination attempt in Vienna. It turned into a political crisis, and the Japanese embassy in Berlin got involved and secreted him back to Japan. According to certain rumors. This was right after the Anschluss. You know about the Anschluss, I assume?’
‘That was when Germany annexed Austria in 1938.’
‘Correct. Hitler incorporated Austria into Germany. There was a lot of chaos, and the Nazis finally took over all of Austria pretty much by force, and the nation of Austria vanished. This was in March 1938. The place was in turmoil, and in the confusion of the moment a lot of people were murdered. Assassinated, or murdered and made to look like suicides. Or else sent to concentration camps…'”
Pg 312 – Music – “I went to the kitchen, took the single malt that Masahiko had given me, and poured a glass on the rocks. I carried the drink out to the living room sofa and selected a record of a Schubert string quartet from Tomohiko Amada’s collection, and put it on the turntable. A piece titled ‘Rosamunde.’ The same music that had been playing in Menshiki’s study. I listened to the music, occasionally clinking the ice in my glass.”
Pg 324 – Film – “The Commendatore lightly shrugged. Charming lines formed between his eyebrows that reminded me of a young Marlon Brando. I seriously doubted the Commendatore had ever seen Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront, but those lines were exactly like Marlon Brando’s. Though I had no way of knowing how far he went, when it came to referencing his appearance and features.”
Pg 340 – Note to self: I wonder if we get more identity from who we are or who we aren’t?
Pg 378 – Food – “The three of us moved to the dining area. They sat at the table, while I prepared the meal. I set the water to boil, warmed the asparagus-and-bacon sauce in a pan, and threw together a quick salad of lettuce, tomato, onion, and green peppers. When the water boiled, I tossed in the pasta and diced some parsley while it cooked. I took the iced tea from the fridge and filled three glasses. Mariye and her aunt watched me bustle about as if witnessing a rare and strange event.”
Pg 392 – Food – “When it began to get dark, I went to the kitchen, cracked open a can of beer, and began preparing dinner. In the oven, I broiled a piece of yellowtail that I’d marinated in sake lees, then sliced pickles, made a cucumber-and-seaweed salad with vinegar, and fixed some miso soup with radishes and deep-fried tofu. Then I sat down and ate my silent meal. There was no one there to talk to, and nothing in particular I could think of to talk about.”
Pg 395 – History / Philosophy – “With her elbows on the table, Mariye watched me polish off the broiled yellowtail, miso soup, and salad as if she had come across something very strange. She could have been sitting on a rock in the jungle, watching a python swallow a baby badger.
‘I marinated the yellowtail myself,’ I explained, breaking the silence. ‘It keeps a lot longer that way.’
She didn’t respond. I couldn’t tell if my words had reached her or not. ‘Immanuel Kant was a man of punctual habits,’ I said. ‘So punctual that people set their clocks by when he passed on his strolls.’
Absolutely meaningless, of course. I just wanted to see how she’d react to something so totally random. If she was really listening or not. Again, no response. The silence around us only deepened further. Immanuel Kant continued strolling through the streets of Königsberg, leading his regulated and taciturn life. His last words were ‘This is good’ (Es ist gut). Some people can live like that.”
Pg 411 – Music – “Then I went to the living room, placed my usual record—Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, conducted by Georg Solti—on the turntable, and read on the sofa while I waited for her to arrive. What kind of book was Shoko Akikawa reading, I wondered? What could have captivated her?”
Pg 443 – Music – “When I finished, I placed Richard Strauss’s Rosenkavalier on the turntable, stretched out on the sofa, and listened. Der Rosenkavalier had become my fallback when I had nothing else to do. A habit implanted in me by Menshiki. The music was somehow addictive, as he had warned. An uninterrupted stream of emotion. Musical instruments in colorful profusion. It was Strauss who boasted, ‘I can describe anything in music, even a common broom.’ Maybe he didn’t say ‘broom’—it could have been something else. At any rate, there was something painterly about his music. Though what I was aiming for in my painting was very different.”
Pg 448 – Note to self: I want to be supremely self-aware – “Yet it was equally certain that Mariye had a deep distrust of Menshiki. She was a girl of keen instincts. Perhaps she had intuitively divined that he was concealing the reasons for his behavior. Thus she maintained a careful distance. At least that was how it appeared to me.”
Pg 452 – “‘No, that hasn’t changed a bit,’ Menshiki said without hesitation. He chewed his lip for a moment before continuing. ‘It’s hard to explain. But when she’s near, and I look at her face and watch her move, this odd feeling comes over me. The sense that somehow my life up to now may have been wasted. That I no longer understand the purpose of my existence, the reason I’m here. As if values I’d thought were certain were turning out to be not so certain after all.'”
Pg 472, beginning of chapter 42 – “The next week flew by. I spent my mornings focused on my painting, and my afternoons reading, taking walks, and doing whatever housework needed to be done. One day blended into the next. My girlfriend showed up on Wednesday and we spent the afternoon making love. The constant creaking of my old bed really cracked her up.
‘It’s going to fall to pieces before long,’ she predicted during a pause in our exertions. ‘There’ll be nothing left but splinters—we won’t be able to tell if they’re wood or pretzel sticks.’
‘Maybe we should try to make love more quietly.’
‘Maybe Captain Ahab should have hunted sardines,’ she said.
I thought about that for a moment. ‘Are you saying some things in this world can’t be changed?’
A short time later, we were back on the rolling seas, in pursuit of the great white whale. Some things really can’t be changed so easily.”
Pg 495 – Literature – “‘Oh yeah, speaking of books, remember the character in Dostoevsky’s The Possessed, the guy who shoots himself with a pistol just to prove how free he is? What’s his name? I figured you might know.’
‘Kirillov,’ I said.
‘That’s right, Kirillov. I’ve been trying to remember, but it keeps slipping my mind.’
‘Why do you want to know?’
‘No special reason,’ Masahiko said, shaking his head. ‘He popped into my head, and when I tried to recall his name, I couldn’t. It’s been bugging me. Like a fish bone caught in my throat. But man, those Russians. They come up with the weirdest ideas, don’t they?’
‘There are lots of characters in Dostoevsky who do crazy things just to prove they are free people, unconstrained by God and society. Thought looking at Russia back then, maybe they weren’t so crazy after all.'”
The Possessed is an alternative name of Demons.
Pg 577 – “‘By reenacting the allegory contained within that painting, we shall lure Long Face into the open. Into this room. By dragging him out, my friends shall win back Mariye Akikawa.’
I was speechless. What world had I stepped into? There seemed no rhyme or reason to it.”
Pg 580 – “Tomohiko’s eyes were wide open. They had been sunk within their wrinkled sockets, but now his eyeballs protruded like a person leaning out of a window. his breathing was deeper, and more ragged. It rasped as it passed in and out of his throat. And he was staring straight at the Commendatore. There was no doubt. The Commendatore was visible to him. Amazement was written in his face. He couldn’t believe what was sitting in front of him. How could a figure produced by his imagination appear before him in reality?
‘Negative, that is not the case,’ the Commendatore said. ‘What he sees and why my friends see are completely different.’
‘You mean you don’t look the same way to him?’
‘My friends, keep in mind that I am an Idea. My form changes depending on the person and the situation.’
‘Then how do you look to Mr. Amada?’
‘That is something even I do not know. I am like a mirror that reflects what is in a person’s heart. Nothing more.’
‘But you assumed this form for me on purpose, didn’t you? Choosing to appear as the Commendatore?’
‘To be precise, I did not choose this form. Cause and effect are hard to separate here. Because I took the form of the Commendatore, a sequence of events was set in motion. But at the same time, my form is the necessary consequence of that very sequence. It is hard to explain using the concept of time that governs the world you live in, my friends, but t might be summed up as: _All these events have been determined beforehand.’
‘If an Idea is a mirror, then is Tomohiko Amada now seeing what he wishes to see?’
‘Negative! He is seeing what he must see,’ the Commendatore corrected me. ‘It may be excruciating. Yet he must look. Now, at the end of his life.’
I examined Tomohiko Amada’s face again. Mixed with the amazement, I could discern an intense loathing. And almost unendurable torment. The return to consciousness carried with it not only the agony of the flesh. It brought with it the agony of the soul.
‘He is squeezing out every last ounce of strength to ascertain who I am. Despite the pain. He is striving to return to his twenties.’
Tomohiko Amada’s face had turned a fiery red. Hot blood coursed through his veins. His thin, dry lips trembled, he gasped violently. His long, skeletal fingers clutched at the sheets.
‘Stop dithering, my friends, and kill me now, while his mind is whole,’ the Commendatore said. ‘The quicker, the better. He may not be able to hold himself together much longer.’
The Commendatore drew his sword from its scabbard. It was just eight inches long, but it looked very sharp indeed. Despite its dimensions, it was a weapon capable of ending a person’s life.
‘Stab me with this,’ the Commendatore said. ‘We shall re-create the scene from Killing Commendatore. But hurry. There is no time to dawdle.”
I looked back and forth from the Commendatore to Tomohiko Amada, struggling to make up my mind. All I could be remotely sure of was that Tomohiko Amada was in desperate need, and the Commendatore’s resolve was firm. I alone wallowed in indecision, caught between the two of them.
I felt the rush of owl wings, and heard a bell ring in the dark.
Everything was connected somewhere.
‘Affirmative! Everything is connected somewhere,’ said the Commendatore. ‘And my friends cannot escape that connection, however my friends may try. So steel yourself, and kill me. There is no room for guilt. Tomohiko Amada needs your help. By slaying me, my friends can save him. Make happen here what should have happened in the past. Now is the time. Only my friends can grant him salvation before he breathes his last.'”
Pg 584 – “I closed my eyes and thought of the girl I had throttled in the love hotel in Miyagi. Of course, she and I had been pretending. I had squeezed her throat gently, so as not to kill her. I had been unable to do it long enough to satisfy her. Had I continued, I might indeed have strangled her to death. On the bed of that love hotel, I had glimpsed the deep range within myself for the first time. It had churned in my chest like blood-soaked mud, pushing me closer and closer to real murder.
I know where you were and what you were doing, the man had said.
‘All right, now bring it down,’ the Commendatore said. ‘I know my friends can do it. Remember my friends will not be killing me. My friends will be slaying your evil father. The blood of your evil father shall soak into the earth.’
My evil father?
Where did that come from?
‘Who is the evil father of my friends?’ the Commendatore said, reading my mind. ‘I believe your path crossed with his not long ago. Am I mistaken?’
Do not paint my portrait any further, the man had said. He had pointed his finger at me from within the dark mirror. It had pierced my chest like the tip of a sharp sword.
Spurred by that pain, I reflexively closed my heart and opened my eyes wide. I cleared all thought from my mind (as Don Giovanni had done in Killing Commendatore), buried my emotions, made my face a blank mask, and brought the knife down with all my might. The sharp blade entered the Commendatore’s tiny chest precisely where he had pointed. I felt the living flesh resist. But the Commendatore himself made no attempt to fend off the blow. His fingers clutched at the air, but apart from that he did not react. Still, the body he inhabited did all that it could to avoid its looming extinction. The Commendatore was an Idea, but his body was not. An Idea may have borrowed it fro its own purposes, but that body would not meekly submit to death. It possessed its own rationale. It had to overcome that resistance through brute force, severing its life at the roots. ‘Kill me,’ the Commendatore had said. But I was actually dispatched another someone‘s body.”
Pg 598 – Music – “Then, for some reason, I thought of the opera Der Rosenkavalier. I would listen to it as I sipped my coffee and nibbled my grilled cheese sandwich. That jet-black vinyl disk, released by Decca Records in Great Britain. I placed the heavy record on the turntable and gently lowered the needle. Georg Solti conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. The music elegant, intricate. When Richard Strauss had boasted he could describe even a broom musically, he was in his heyday. But was it a broom? I still couldn’t remember. Perhaps it was an umbrella, or then again maybe a fireplace poker. In any case, how could one describe a broom in music? Or a hot grilled cheese sandwich, or someone’s callused feet, or the difference between a simile and a metaphor? Could music really depict those things?
Richard Strauss conducted the same orchestra in prewar Vienna. (Was it before the Anschluss? After?) The program on this given day was Beethoven’s 7th, a resolute yet quiet and well-groomed symphony, squeezed between its bright, uninhibited older sister (the 6th) and its bashful and beautiful younger sister (the 8th). A youthful Tomohiko Amada was in attendance. A pretty young woman sat beside him. Most likely, he was in love with her.
I imagined the city of Vienna on that day. The waltzes, the sweet Sacher tortes, the red-and-black swastikas fluttering from the roofs.”
Pg 603 – True nature – “As I walked along the riverbank, I wondered what, if anything, lived in the water. It didn’t seem like anything did. I couldn’t confirm this, of course. Nevertheless, I could see no signs of life. What organism would live in water that had neither taste nor odor? The river appeared wholly concentrated on its own identity. ‘I am river,’ it said. ‘I am that which flows.’ Certainly it possessed the form of a river, but beyond that state of being there was nothing. Not a thing floated on its surface, not a twig, not a blade of grass. It was simply a great quantity of water cutting across the land.
I pushed on through that boundless, cottony mist. It gently resisted me as I moved, like a filmy curtain of white lace. After a while, my gut began to react to the water I had drunk. It didn’t feel unpleasant or ominous, but neither was it cause for rejoicing. A neutral feeling, whose true nature eluded my understanding. I felt I was being somehow changed, as if I were no longer the same person. It was a strange sensation. Could the water be turning me into someone physically adapted to this world?”
Pg 614 – Alice in Wonderland is real – “The gloomy sea of trees was behind me, the towering cliff (much too steep for me to climb) straight ahead. The mouth of the cave opened directly before me. I looked up at the sky a second time, then around at my surroundings. Nothing looked like a path. My next move had to be to enter the cave—there was no alternative. Before going in, I took several deep breaths, to brace myself. By moving forward, I would generate a new reality in accordance with the principle of connectivity. So the faceless man had said. I would navigate the interstice between presence and absence. I could only entrust myself to his words.
Warily, I stepped into the cave. Then it struct me—_I had been here before_. I knew this cave by sight. The air inside was familiar, too. Memories came flooding back. The wind cave on Mt. Fuji. The cave where our young uncle had taken Komichi and me during our summer break, back when we were kids. She had slipped into a narrow side tunnel and disappeared for a long while. I had been scared to death that she was gone for good. Had she been sucked into an underground maze for all eternity?
Eternity is a very long time, the faceless man had said.”
Pg 619 – “Once ‘Once again, it is you who determines the path. You are the one who chose the proper route to reach this world. You paid a great price for that, and have crossed the river by boat. You cannot turn back now.’
I looked again at the opening. I shuddered to think I would have to crawl into that dark, cramped tunnel. Yet that was what I had to do. She was right—I couldn’t turn back now. I placed the lantern on the ground and took the flashlight from my pocket. A lantern would be too cumbersome in that tiny space.
‘Believe in your self,’ Donna Anna said, her voice small but penetrating. ‘You have drunk from the river, have you not?’
‘Yes, I was very thirsty.’
‘It is good that you did so,’ Donna Anna said. ‘That river flows along the interstice between presence and absence. It is filled with hidden possibilities that only the finest metaphors can bring to the surface. Just as a great poet can use one scene to bring another new, unknown vista into view. It should be obvious, but the best metaphors make the best poems. Take good care not to avert your eyes from the new, unknown vistas you will encounter.’
Tomohiko Amada’s Killing Commendatore might be seen as one such ‘unknown vista.’ Like a great poem, the painting was a perfect metaphor, one that launched a new reality into the world.”
Pg 630 – Meaning in it all – “It was still pitch black when I woke up. I couldn’t see my finger when I waved it in front of my face. The darkness blotted out the line between sleep and wakefulness as well. Where did one end and the other begin, and which side was I on? I dragged out my bag of memories and began flipping through them, as if counting a stack of gold coins: the black cat that had been our pet; my old Peugeot 205; Menshiki’s white mansion; the record Der Rosenkavalier; the plastic penguin. I was able to call up memories of each, in great detail. My mind was working okay—the Double Metaphor hadn’t devoured it. It’s just that I had been in total darkness for so long that I was having trouble drawing a line between the world of sleep and the waking world.
I switched on the flashlight, covered it with my hand, and read my watch in the light leaking between my fingers: 1:18. Last time I looked, it was 4:32. Could I have been sleeping in such an uncomfortable position for nine hours? That was hard to believe. If that were true, I should be a lot stiffer. It seemed more reasonable to assume that, unbeknownst to me, time had traveled backward three hours. But I couldn’t be certain either way. Being immersed in the dark for so long had obliterated my sense of time.
In any case, the cold had grown more penetrating. And I had to pee. Badly. Resigning myself, I shuffled to the other side of the pit and let it all out. It was a long pee that the ground quickly absorbed. A faint smell of ammonia lingered, but only for a moment. Once the need to pee had been taken care of, hunger stepped in to take its place. By slow and stready degrees, it seemed, my body was readapting to the real world. Perhaps the effects of the water I had drunk from the River of Metaphor were wearing off.
I had to get out of the pit as soon as possible. I felt that more urgently now. If I didn’t, it wouldn’t take long to starve to death. Human beings can only sustain life if provided with food and water—that was the basic rule of the real world. And my present location had neither. All I had was air (though the lid was closed, air seemed to be leaking in from somewhere). Air, love, and ideals were important, no argument there, but you couldn’t survive on them alone.“
Pg 656 – “Talking to Yuzu had left me at loose ends. I sat in the dining room for an hour, mostly looking at the clock on the wall. I would see her on Monday and we would talk about ‘a number of things.’ We hadn’t seen each other since March. It had been a chilly Sunday afternoon then, rain quietly falling. Now she was seven months pregnant. A major change in her life. I, on the other hand, was still just me. True, I had drunk the water of the Land of Metaphor only a few days earlier, and had crossed the river that divided presence and absence, but I wasn’t sure if the experience had changed me or not.”
Pg 657 – Music – “I put Bruce Springsteen’s The River on the turntable. Then I lay on the sofa, closed my eyes, and listened. When the A side of the first LP had finished, I turned it over and listened to the B side. Albums like The River have to be heard in this fashion. After ‘Independence Day’ wraps up the A side, you take the record in both hands, turn it over, and carefully lower the stylus. ‘Hungry Heart’ fills the room. What was the point of listening to The River any other way? In my personal opinion, when CDs strung together the sides of records like The River, they spoiled the experience. The same was true of Rubber Soul and Pet Sounds. Great music should be presented in its prober form. And listened to in a proper manner.
Whatever the case, the E Street Band’s performance was a knockout. The band revved up the singer , and the singer inspired the band. As I zoned in on the music, I could feel my worries fading.
I was lifting the needle from the first record when I realized that, perhaps, I should give Menshiki a call. We hadn’t spoken since the day before, when he had rescued me from the pit. Yet somehow I didn’t really feel like it. This happened on occasion. He was a fascinating guy, but there were times I really didn’t want to talk to him. The gap between us was vast. Why should that be? At any rate, I didn’t feel like hearing his voice at that particular moment.
So I gave up. I’d call him later. After all, the day had just begun. I put the second record of The River on the stereo. But just when I was settling back to listen to ‘Cadillac Ranch’ (‘All gonna meet down at the Cadillac Ranch’), the telephone rang.”
Pg 665 – “‘He looked exactly the same as you see here, same face, same clothes. But he was only two feet tall. Very compact. And with a peculiar way of speaking. For some reason, I seem to be the only person able to see him. He called himself an ‘Idea.’ And said he had been stuck in that pit. In other words, Mr. Menshiki and I had set him free. Do you get what he meant by ‘Idea’?’
Mariye shook her head no.
‘It’s hard for me, too. The way I understand it, an idea is a type of concept. But not all concepts are ideas. Love, for example, is not an idea. But ideas are what make love possible. Without ideas, love cannot exist. This discussion can go on forever, though. And to tell you the truth, I’m not even sure of the correct definitions. Anyway, an idea is a concept, and concepts have no physical shape. They are pure abstractions. Nevertheless, this Idea temporarily borrowed the form of the Commendatore in the painting to make itself visible to me. Do you follow me so far?’
‘Pretty much,’ Mariye broke her silence for the first time. ‘I met him too.'”