Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki - Murakami

Today I'm posting my thoughts about this book as part of a discussion occurring over at DolceBelezza. Feel free to join in. The questions were posted by Random House, and we're just selecting some questions we wanted to work with. I'm responding to Q's 1 & 2 primarily, however I have a feeling I'll post another review (perhaps part 2) in a couple of days with some more thoughts. 

Q1. What is the significance of the name of the novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage? Why is Tsukuru branded “colorless”? Would you say that this an accurate description of him? Is this how Tsukuru sees himself or is it how he is seen by others? What kind of pilgrimage does Tsukuru embark upon and how does he change as a result of this pilgrimage? What causes these changes?

I propose that Tsukuru is not so colourless, but more pastel. I felt that he identified as ‘colourless’ in contrast to his friends, whom he held in high esteem for their individual ‘colours’ or strengths. While I was struck by the concept that your name could have such a powerful influence on your character, I don’t believe Tsukuru was actually without character. He presented to me as a caring, compassionate and concerned person, even in his youth. As part of the group, they played with children while Shiro (Yuzuki) taught piano classes, and they did other community minded activities. I don’t think he participated in this out of mindless following, I think he saw that as important. 

I don’t think that it was inappropriate to call the book ‘Colourless Tsukuru’ because the concept did influence how I read the book. I think the title made me think more about who Tsukuru was and how he felt he was what his name meant. 

The pilgrimage he undertakes is both a personal journey of self discovery, and a journey in the physical sense to different cities, which represent his willingness to see  things differently. His friends never travelled far, which to me indicates their need to feel safe and secure, while Tsukuru was prepared to travel to uni and work. The when he was the one to make the pilgrimage to discover what happened in the past, he was the one to travel. The others didn’t. 

Q2. Why does Tsukuru wait so many years before attempting to find out why he was banished from the group? How does he handle the deep depression he feels as a result of this rejection and how is he changed by this period of suffering? Is Tsukuru the only character who suffers in this way? If not, who else suffers at what is the cause? Do you believe that their distress could have been avoided? If so, how?

I think he accepted the ‘banishment’ in the first place because he had faith that his friends knew what they were doing, but his reaction to it then was out of fear – he didn’t want to know why it happened. I think he ‘lived’ with the pain because he didn’t know any other way to react (not surprising given he was an adolescent male). Eventually he just moved on with his routine ways as a way of avoiding the pain. In true Murakami style, routine is an important strategy for coping. So many of his novels have the main character  living a simple routine. (perhaps that’s why I like his books, I like simple routines too). Other iconic Murakami characteristics appear here too – swimming, a glass of Cuttey Stark, listening to classical music, and sex – help Tsukuru to regain his personal meaning. 

Sara appeared to play a pivotal role in encouraging Tsukuru to take on the journey of discovery. I think it was a timely encounter, serendipitous, meeting Sara. She was a facilitator of healing because she was prepared to look at the story from a different point of view. She was bold in her assertion that she would not let this lie if it were her, and bold in her encouragement that this would be a significant thing for Tsukuru. I believe the serendipity of the moment for Tsukuru was that Sara was bold enough to say what she thought, and Tsukuru was interested enough in pursuing Sara as more than a friend, that he was motivated to do the journey, for her. He soon found the journey was for him. 

I think that each individual in the group of 5 was personally affected by what transpired. I think each one suffered following the decision to cut off Tsukuru. The boys did what boys do – plough on, forging out their existence, but not so boldly as to leave the town. The girls dealt with what they were facing. Eri (Kuro) felt obliged to carry on in the caring role. Shiro (Yuzuki) was also suffering, but perhaps she suffered all along. I think Eri had an extreme burden and experienced great suffering. Murakami captured in Eri’s story, something that many women the world around experience – responsibility and guilt. Eri’s story turned out positively, but it was a difficult journey for her. She suffered because she cared too much for her friend Shiro, but also because she lost her love, Tsukuru. 

I’m not sure the pain was avoidable. I think they group made the only choices they knew how to make then. We’ve all made similar decisions, and sometimes there’s no clear way of reversing the events that happened. Sometimes it takes a very bold person to actually identify and act on a wrong.
This book was not a typical Murakami novel, not surreal by Murakami standards. I felt an affinity with the story because this has happened in my life (and I suspect many others can relate to it too). Friends who share alot of their lives together, drift apart or suddenly part, with no further contact. I still have friends that I feel ‘dropped me’ and I don’t know why. 

One of the most powerful quotes in the book for me is this;

The past became a long, razor-sharp skewer that stabbed right through his heart. Silent silver pain shot through him, transforming his spine to a pillar of ice. The pain remained, unabated. He held his breath, shut his eyes tight, enduring the agony. Alfred Brendel’s graceful playing continued. The CD shifted to the second suite, ‘Second Year: Italy’.

And in that moment, he finally able to accept it all. In the deepest recesses of his soul, Tsukuru Tazaki understood. One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility. There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss. That is what lies at the root of true harmony. (near the end of chapter 16).
What was your favourite quote?

Monday, September 1, 2014

A cup of Tea and thoughts on blogging

image from here 
Yesterday I had the pleasure of enjoying a lovely afternoon tea with my girlfriend Karen, from awonderinglife, and her gorgeous Sweet Pea. What a joy it is to watch a 2 year old eat a pink macaroon!

While watching little Sweet Pea bouncing on her trampoline, Karen and I chatted about the world of blogging, social media and what it means for us and our persuits. Do you think about this stuff? Have you thought about the possibility that blogging is 'old school'? what about the question of facebook, twitter, printrest, tumbler  google+??

I wonder about blogging, more so perhaps about my own blogging..... what do I want to be achieving with blogging? is blogging about 'achieving' something? Do I want it to be different from what it is? If so, how?

 image from here

I have a sense that if my blogging was more about 'selling' or 'recruiting' or 'posing a position', that I should be more engaged in a social media strategy - linking my posts to facebook so people can 'like' or 'share', and relating my posts to images that can be 'pinned'. If my blogging was to be about selling, recruiting or posing positions, then I'd be more active at pursuing 'followers', and I'd be more interested in 'outcomes'.

But I'm not sure I am interested in selling, recruiting or positions... I think I am interested exploring my own positions on issues, and perhaps linking with others who are exploring similar ideas. I think thats what blogging is for me - connecting with like minded thinkers. But how does that 'connecting' occur in the blogging world? I've learned that its about visiting other blogs, commenting, leaving 'signs' that we are on a similar wave length. This takes a commitment beyond just following facebook links.

I find that blogging is not really a 'smart phone' friendly sport - where as facebook, pintrest and twitter, all have smart phone apps which make those platforms much more mobile. Blogging requires access to a bigger screen.

I find myself wondering about the future of blogging? what do you think? what are your thoughts about blogging, social media and mobile apps?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Japanese Lit Challenge 8

So It's now time to change directions and join the Japanese Literature Challenge No 8. This month I'm joining Dolce Belezza in a read-a-long with Murakami's latest release. My copy arrived at the local bookstore right on time, and I collected it today. So I'm on my way.....
I'm not sure what is actually going to happen in this novel, because the pre release press was very very vague - in true Murakami mystery. I'm also not sure what the read-a-long will entail, but I'm ready.... but to start........I want to share with you my first dilemma with this novel.

When the pre-release press was purposely vague and mysterious, I'm left a little curious as to what to do with the little present I found when I opened my new copy of the book.... I'm not even sure if I will open the little present until I find out more about it.... did anyone else find a little treat inside their new book?
 So, since Paris in July ended, and while I was waiting for my Murakami novel to arrive, I read Keigo Higashino's Salvation of a Saint.

Keigo Higashino is one of the most popular and biggest selling fiction authors in Japan.
Born in Osaka, he started writing novels while still working as an engineer . He won the Edogawa Rampo Prize, which is awarded annually to the finest mystery work, in 1985 for the novel Hōkago (After School) at age 27. Subsequently, he quit his job and started a career as a writer in Tokyo.

In 1999, he won the Mystery Writers of Japan Inc award for the novel Himitsu (The Secret), which was translated into English by Kerim Yasar and published by Vertical under the title of Naoko in 2004. In 2006, he won the 134th Naoki Prize for Yōgisha X no Kenshin. His novels had been nominated five times before winning with this novel.
 I enjoy a crime/forensic novel, and I devoured this one once I got into it. Salvation of a Saint involves a seasoned detective, a physics professor and a new recruit as the mystery solving team. The crime involved Arsenic Acid, a seemingly driven man who wanted to be a father, and the women he selected to bear his children. It was, for me, a fairly typical crime novel, with the infusion of some interesting Japanese cultural aspects.  Given that this author has more that 90 titles to his name, and many TV/Movie versions of his work, I figure I'll probably read more of his work sometime in the future. Does anyone recommend any of his other works??

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Images from my week

 At the end of my commute, I arrive to my favourite destination - the harbour port of my home town. 

 During my morning commute, I take in the early morning tranquility..

When I arrive at the office, I take in the icon scenery of the city I work in. 
Then I enjoy  my weekend with this view :)

Spring is coming!

What's happening this month;
  • Simplifying - sorting out books, DVD's, CD's and magazines to share with others...
  • Gardening - feeding, pruning and planning spring plantings
  • Crazy stuff - signed up for 7.5km run for Alzheimers
  • Work for ODAM (my charity in India) - Trivia Night this month
  • Reading - Japanese Literature - Starting with this
  • Eating - Just had this for dinner with friends last night

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Paris in July - Reflection Post 2014

Paris in July - my personal reflections as a co host of a blogging event. 
Originally the brainchild of Karen and myself after having a conversation about bringing our shared love of Paris, literature and travel into an event to share with others - Paris in July, the blogging event, has now celebrated 5 years.

For me Paris in July, the blogging event, is one time in the year when I put significant energy and thought into my blogging practice. This year, i considered my commitments in life, and stepped up my role in the event because I had a bit more time and space than Karen did. This year we invited and welcomed co-hosts - Bellezza, Adria, Vicki and Nichole. Having a team of co-hosts allowed us to achieve several important milestones in Paris in July.
  • Between us all, we ensured that there was a new Paris in July post ever day of the month. I am so proud of that!
  • with new blood on the team, we ensured a cross selection of posts and topics - from travel, food, photos, literature, fashion and life in Paris. 
  • Between the co hosts - we were able to invite along other participants from our followers - and we welcomed new participants, and previous ones too. 
  • Some of the co-hosts are also active Twitterers - and this added to our coverage, making the event more accessible... 
Along with all of those changes, I also introduced some new aspects to my blog for Paris in July.
  • Monday Menus - the post that outlined the main activity for the week - also had a Mr Linky spot for participants to add their Paris in July post links
  • The Menus were then available on my blog (top left hand corner) so people could easily link into the week menu to check other participant posts and the plans for the week. 
  • I created an image to mark the two posts per week I was responsible for - Tuesday Travels and Thursdays Taste of Paris. For me, having the two dedicated posts per week meant a little bit of homework, but it was so much easier when I had planned it out in advance.
Some lessons I've learnt co-hosting this years Paris in July blogging event include
  • being prepared in advance - like having all the cohosts proposed posts at the beginning of the month - makes each week much easier to roll out.
  • inviting previous participants is helpful - as many people dont 'follow' enough to be aware that the event is on. I did this to a certain extent by visiting previous participants blogs and leaving them messages to come over and join in.
  • Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram & Facebook could probably be utilised more to engage a broader audience and to create a broader conversation. (Funny that I say that as I dont do any of that stuff!)
  • being flexible and responsive - Sadly Nichole's blog was 'corupted' for some of the time during July!
On reflection, I had a great time in my role (I do love lists, organising and order). I loved visiting everyone's posts as soon as they were put up on mr linky. I enjoyed my own easy Monday Menu Links on my front page, and I love my co-hosts contributions - wedding dresses, perfume, icecream, pre school, childrens books, stories in photos (watermelon and rose!!!) all of it was fantastic.

I hope it all happens again next year!

I'd love to hear your thoughts too.  And dont forget, I'll leave the Monday Menu links up for a few weeks yet.... there's heaps of posts there to read.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Paris in July - a Degustation

So this is it - the final course. Paris in July is coming to its conclusion, and for my final post in the Taste of Paris series, I wanted to spend a little time reflecting on the idea of a degustation.


dégustation f (plural dégustations)
  1. tasting, act of tasting or trying out food
Food historians and food critics believe that the origins of degustation can be traced to the Middle Ages in France where Chefs had 15 to 20 courses to degust.
From here
La Degustation refers to a long meal, more focused on tasting than eating to fill. Its frequently a method used by chefs and wine makers to 'showcase' their specialities, and to make an evening out of the 'total' food and wine experience. Often the small size meals are matched to different wines of the same region. And from what I've heard, a good degustation experience involves resting between the courses, and enjoying the meal with friends.
Pronounced as 'dee-gus-stay-shun', the meaning of degustation is basically 'small amounts to taste'. It modern times, degustation generally involves a multiple course meal that highlights a Chef's talent and creativity. The portions are generally small and the purpose of a degustation experience is to taste, rather than to simply eat. Degustation is not simply limited to saying "Mmmm, this is good." You must swirl and savor the food in your mouth, give out elaborate descriptions of the palette about how intricate the combination of ingredients were, appreciate the culinary gifts of the chef and interact with the elite company around you. Degustation menus can also include savories, cheese, dessert and wine amongst many other edible items. Ladies and gentlemen - welcome to the art of tasting (from here)

So, isn't that exactly what Paris in July is - a degustation of all things French. We have each taken the time to 'showcase' our own specialities, or passions. Nichole shared her photo stories (and apologises now for problems with her blog), Adria and Vicki shared about their own books, and the city they live in (including ice cream!), Bellezza showcased her literary and perfume passions, Karen showcased her love of children books and other pieces of french literature, while I stayed with the travel and tastes of Paris interests I have had since I was very young. Our many participants also took the chance to showcase their love of Paris and France - and like matching a good wine with the degustation courses - our participants posts matched the flavours and textures of the hosts!

I experienced a french degustation last year for Bastille Day, and I have fantasies of experiencing it again.  Of course, the company you share such an experience with is half the fun of it too. Here's a blurb for one degustation I really lusted over based in the South Australian Wine District.
Nestled amongst the vines on Maxwell Wines estate is a hidden treasure - The Lime Cave. Inspired by the underground quarries in Paris, land owner FP Shipster hand-carved this limestone cave in 1916 to grow mushrooms. Almost a century on and the Lime Cave is again being used to grow mushrooms and with our highly talented chef we have created a 9 course mushroom themed degustation with our premium wines included in this uniquely stunning place to dine.  

 It's just as much about the way you write about a degustation that makes the full experience - again, much the same as our blogging event - Paris in July.

Have you experienced a french degustation?  Can you remember which course you  loved the most? what about the conversation you shared with friends over the length of that meal - do you remember that? Can anyone recommend an affordable degustation experience in Paris?
A bientot mes amis!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tuesday Travels - Toilet Tips

Who hasn't expereinced this? In France, busting to go to the loo - but not having the cash?  Cash?  I hear you say, why do you need cash? 
In Australia, you'll find public toilets everywhere, mostly clean, and definitely Free... In France, when you're travelling in Paris and other popular tourist destinations, you'll be confronted with either a turn style or an assistant expecting cash. 

Everyone has toilet stories after travelling. Here Riana talks about some of her experiences as an expat living in Paris with toileting rules - quite funny really. She makes the point that you will find a range of different toilets around this ancient city, including the Turkish toilet. She also mentions the outdoor experience.....

Which button would you press?

Riana doesn' appear to mention the toilet that took  my partner and I by surprise - the electric assisted toilet - this is one that has a 'muncher' attached to it. Usually in older hotels that were built before plumbing. The electric motor starts when you flush and it 'munches' things to fit into the old or thin pipes.

If you're looking for some useful advice on toilets in France, here Rick Steves provides some great advice to prepare the novice traveller.

Does anyone else have interesting toilet stories from France? Has anyone ever been confronted by toilets in France with no doors, or  mixed gender loos? what about what toilets are called in France? I'd love to hear your stories too!