Monday, October 13, 2008


Saturday was a day of liminal incidents.

In Dolores Park, we saw a street man, dressed neatly in a blue polo shirt, slacks, and a red baseball cap go from polite, sing-song hawker of the Street Sheet to disdainful, wounded-pride accuser of racism after a girl in a lavender hippie dress bluntly dismissed him. I couldn't hear what exactly she said to him, so I don't know if his response was warranted or not, but it was a jarring note, for sure.

We traveled to Berkeley to attend a reading, and in a cafe along Telegraph called the Mediterraneum, we conversed with a couple of gentlemen who have dropped out of society, but who sit outside coffee shops. One of the gentlemen looked remarkably like an El Greco painting, with an elongated face and white beard, and the long fingers of a pianist, all the while wearing an aquamarine and white track suit. From them, I learned:

a) it can be a choice to live in a van, bartering a place to stay for your friends in exchange for use of their computers and phones;

b) it can be enough, perhaps, to have companionship, the occasional chance to lend or borrow money, or the chance to work in a harvest of sorts for the gas money to make a plan for road trips;

c) there is someone in Berkeley named Mouse;

d) there is someone who attends free meals at a church who kicks his fellow lunchers in the posterior;

e) there is a woman who can sleep sitting upright on a bus stop bench, bundled up in jackets and hooded sweatshirts, asking for change.

From the cafe, we made our way to the UC Berkeley campus for a reading/conversation with Haruki Murakami, the prolific, acclaimed, funny and talented author of such works as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka On the Shores, Underground, and After The Quake.

After a few brief comments, such as a lament that he was missing the chance to watch Akinori Iwamura and the Tampa Bay Rays play the Boston Red Sox, Mr. Murakami read one of his short stories in Japanese, after which it was read in English by the professor who would moderate the post-reading conversation. It was read in English, of course, because as Mr. Murakami said, "many of you don't speak Japanese. Which is not MY fault."

The interview/conversation/Q & A session was interesting on many levels. Mr. Murakami's answers were often a bit circuitous, literary, with a lot of substance that I think could be found in what he didn't say, or in what was merely implied. I found that one or two of the interviewer's follow-up questions seemed to have already been answered. I think there was a bit of a language barrier still, even though they were each fluent in the native tongue of the other. A couple of times, it seemed like Mr. Murakami was taking the gist of a question as a launch point for a different topic all together, which as the author would be his right.

I liked what he had to say, on three points in particular:

1) he is patriotic, but he doesn't write for his country, but for his people. This was in regards to his works Underground and After the Quake, which followed two tragedies in 1995, the Kobe earthquake and the serin attack on the Tokyo subway system by members of a cult;

2) he never thought about his potential to write until he was 29;

3) he believes in translations of his work; if the story is good, it will have the same impact in different languages, despite the linguistic differences between translators. This was a good point, as I myself have been sometimes ambivalent about reading translations.

In the final analysis, we are all the same on a fundamental level. He doesn't write his stories about the character of Japanese people only; if that were so, the stories would fail internationally and he would not have been translated into 40 languages. The cause of a homeless life is not necessarily something inherent to the individual that can't be chosen or found by any one of us. Those borders are fluid things. In troubled, stressful times like these, those borders can either be solidified, set in concrete, or can be erased a bit, shifted, expanded.

It will be fascinating to observe which way we choose to proceed.


Blogger String said...

Nice blog, loved the description about what you learned from the two men on Telegraph!

2:51 AM  
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