Surge of Death

Week 3 of Murakami Fest Year 14. Previous posts:

Year 1: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year 2: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year 3: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year 4: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year 5: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year 6: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year 7: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year 8: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year 9: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year 10: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year 11: Embers, Escape, Window Seats, The End of the World
Year 12: Distant Drums, Exhaustion, Kiss, Lack of Pretense, Rotemburo
Year 13: Murakami Preparedness, Pacing Norwegian Wood, Character Studies and Murakami’s Financial Situation, Mental Retreat, Writing is Hard
Year 14: Prostitutes and Novelists, Villa Tre Colli and Norwegian Wood

The next chapter “A Small Death at 3:50am (午前三字五十分の小さな死)” is another very short chapter. Murakami introduces the mood he gets into when writing a longer novel—he thinks constantly of death, specifically of avoiding death. He prays almost compulsively for random acts of violence not to happen to him so that he can finish the novel. Not that he expects it to be good, but that it will be a piece of himself. This mindset only happens when he’s writing.

So on March 18, 1987 at 3:50am, he awakes in a cold sweat from a nightmare. Murakami rarely dreams, and he notes this again here. Even if he does dream, he usually forgets it immediately. But this dream feels more real than reality.

He spends a long time describing a gory (but pretty boring) dream about being in a large hangar with decapitated cows. 500 of them, with the heads lined up looking at him and their blood running into rivets, then into a central rivet out of the building out over a cliff into the sea.

Seagulls are flocking, drinking the blood and eating bits of meat, wanting to get in to the building where the bodies of the cows are.

When he wakes up, it’s dark out, and he drinks water and sits in the darkness, wishing he could listen to some music.

The chapter is…fine, I guess. A bit boring compared to the rest of the book where Murakami is looking outward rather than inward. He mentions F. Scott Fitzgerald dying suddenly while still working on The Last Tycoon. And there is a little bit of well imagery. But other than that it’s kind of an unremarkable chapter.

The only interesting detail we have is that this was during the 19-day period when he was working on the second draft of Norwegian Wood from March 7 to March 26. So presumably he was stressed trying to finish up in time.

Here’s the last paragraph, which is somewhat nicely penned:

朝が訪れる前のこの小さな時刻に、僕はそのような死のたかまりを感じる。死のたかまりが遠い海鳴りのように、僕に身体を震わせるのだ。長い小説を書いていると、よくそういうことが起こる。僕は小説を書くことによって、少しずつ生の深みへと降りていく。小さな梯子をつたって、僕は一歩、また一歩下降していく。でもそのようにして生の中心に近づけば近づくほど、僕ははっきりと感じることになる。そのほんのわずか先の暗闇の中で、しもまた同時に激しい高まりを見せていることを。 (218)

In the wee hours before morning breaks, I feel this surge of death. Like the distant roar of the sea, this surge makes me shake. This often happens when I’m writing a long novel. By writing a novel, I slowly plumb the depths of life. I descend a small ladder rung by rung. But the closer I get to the center of life, the more clearly I can sense it: the aggressive surge that death reveals in the same instant in the darkness just in front of me.

Villa Tre Colli and Norwegian Wood

Murakami Fest Year 14 continues. Here are the previous posts in this annual celebration:

Year 1: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year 2: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year 3: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year 4: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year 5: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year 6: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year 7: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year 8: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year 9: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year 10: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year 11: Embers, Escape, Window Seats, The End of the World
Year 12: Distant Drums, Exhaustion, Kiss, Lack of Pretense, Rotemburo
Year 13: Murakami Preparedness, Pacing Norwegian Wood, Character Studies and Murakami’s Financial Situation, Mental Retreat, Writing is Hard
Year 14: Prostitutes and Novelists

The next chapter is ヴィラ・トレコリ (Villa Tre Colli), a very short chapter. Just four pages, probably a third of the length of most other chapters in the book. And for good reason – Murakami is dialed in as he finished the first draft of Norwegian Wood. He doesn’t have the time or energy to write anything else, as we’ll see.

He’s staying in Villa Tre Colli, an aged hotel on the edge of the city. It looks out over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building and the Stadio Olimpico, and he can hear the crowds at soccer matches cheering.

Trip Advisor calls Villa Tre Colli the 3,165th of 4,403 hotels in Rome, which basically aligns with Murakami’s review. This YouTube video makes it seem like it’s been turned into a wedding venue.

I felt like this couldn’t be the same place, but the location tracks (it even has a Facebook Page). You can see the Stadio Olimpico and Foreign Ministry on the map, and the Google streetview cuts off at the entrance to the gate, suggesting that once you go through the gate you have to climb a hill. Pretty cool.

At any rate, here’s what Murakami has to say about finishing the first draft:

小説の第一稿は三月七日に完成した。三月七日は冷え込んだ土曜日だった。ローマ人は三月のことを気違いの月と言う。天候の変化や気温の変化がでたらめで急激なのである。前日はぽかぽかと春のようだったのに、一晩でまた真冬に逆戻りというところだ。この日は朝の五時半に起きて、庭を軽く走り、それから休みなしに十七時間書き続けた。真夜中前に小説は完成した。日記を見るとさすがに疲れていたようで、ひとこと「すごく良い」と書いてあるだけだ。

講談社の出版部の木下陽子さんに電話をかけて、小説がいちおう完成したことを連絡すると、四月の初めにボローニャで絵本の見本市があって、講談社の国際室の人が行くので、そこで原稿を直接手渡してもらえるとありがたいのだがということであった。なかなか面白い小説になったと思うよ、と僕が言うと、「えー、九百枚もあるの?本当に面白いんですか?」と疑わしそうに言う。けっこう猜疑心の強い人なのである。 (209)

I finished the first draft of the novel on March 7. March 7 was a frigid Saturday. Romans call March a crazy month. The changes in weather and temperature are random and sudden. The day before can be a pleasantly warm spring day, yet overnight it will be back to mid-winter. That day I woke up at 5:30, did a quick run in the garden, and then wrote for 17 hours without a break. I finished the novel just before midnight. Judging from my diary, I was predictably exhausted; I wrote just a single sentence: “It went really well.”

I called Kinoshita Yoko with Kodansha’s publishing division to tell her I’d basically finished the novel, and she said there was a trade fair for picture books in Bologna at the beginning of April that someone from Kodansha’s international team would be attending and asked whether I might be able to hand over the manuscript directly to them at the fair. I think the book’s pretty good, I said, and she said “Oh yeaaah? It’s 900 pages? Are you sure it’s that good?” with some doubt in her voice. She’s a bit of a skeptic.

This is pretty awesome detail that Murakami includes. I’m sure Jay Rubin must have written about this in his book, but it’s very cool to read about it in Murakami’s own words.

And just imagine being that Kodansha staff, taking the manuscript in Bologna and then having to transport it back to Tokyo. I imagine that Murakami had his rough draft material, but I wonder whether they would have been able to make a full copy or if the one on the plane back to Japan was the only one in existence.

Speaking of drafting material, Murakami goes on to explain his editing process, which is fascinating:

すぐに翌日から第二稿にとりかかる。ノートやらレターペーパーに書いた原稿を、あたまから全部あらためて書きなおしていくのだ。四百字詰めにして九百枚ぶんの原稿をボールペンですっかり書きなおすというのは、自慢するわけではないけれど、体力がないととてもできない作業である。第二稿が完成したのが三月二十六日だった。ボローニャのブックフェアまでに仕上げなくてはと思ってものすごく急いでやったので、最後の頃には右腕が疲れてほとんど動かなくなってしまった。僕はありがたいことに肩がこらない体質だから、肩の方は大丈夫なのだけれど、腕がやられた。だから暇があると床でせっせと腕立て伏せをやっていた。長編小説を書くというのは、世間一般の人が思っているよりはずっと激しい肉体労働なのである。今ではワードプロセッサー導入のおかげでずいぶん楽になったけれど。 (209-210)

The next day I started on the second draft right away. I took the draft that I’d written in notebooks and on letter paper and rewrote it completely from the beginning. I don’t mean to brag, but completely rewriting a draft of 900 400-character pages with a ballpoint pen isn’t the type of work you can do without endurance. I finished the second draft on March 26. I was really hurrying because I had to finish before the book fair in Bologna, so by the end my right arm was so tired I could barely move it. Thankfully, I don’t usually get tight shoulders, so my shoulders were fine, but my arm was shot. So when I had any down time, I was careful to do push-ups on the floor. Writing a full-length novel is far more labor-intensive than most people might think. Thanks to the introduction of the word processor, it’s gotten a lot easier these days…

I’m not sure what the goal of doing push-ups is. Maybe to keep his arm active, to keep his left arm working as well?

This is really the first close look I’ve gotten at Murakami’s revision process. After the second draft, he goes through it again with a red pen, although he doesn’t mention if it gets another rewrite after that. I would imagine not.

He settles on the title “Norwegian Wood” two days before leaving for Bologna. This is also a bit surprising, as in recent years I believe Murakami has mentioned that the title of his novels is often a starting point. But we know he was working from the short story “Firefly” in this case.

So what do we know? We know that the Murakamis left for Europe on October 4, 1986 and that he complete the first draft of Norwegian Wood on March 7, 1987. At the beginning of this chapter, Murakami mentions that they’ve been in Europe for four months, so he may have been writing at Villa Tre Colli for that fifth month. No matter how you calculate it, it’s an impressive task. Murakami takes a solid short story and turns it into a generational novel in 150 days. While living abroad. In temporary housing across the Mediterranean, with storms flooding the apartments and drafty walls letting in the cold. Say what you will about his decline in recent years, Norwegian Wood has a pretty cool creation story, and it’s a shame that more of the world hasn’t read about it in Murakami’s own words.

Prostitutes and Novelists

Welcome to Murakami Fest 2021! This year I’ll be looking at five more chapters from 遠い太鼓 (Tōi taiko, Distant Drums), Murakami’s travel memoir from Europe. Another fascinating set of chapters! Murakami is finishing Norwegian Wood and traveling through Italy. We get some great details about the writing process.

This is Year 14 of the fest. Where has the time gone? Here are the previous entries:

Year 1: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year 2: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year 3: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year 4: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year 5: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year 6: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year 7: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year 8: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year 9: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year 10: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year 11: Embers, Escape, Window Seats, The End of the World
Year 12: Distant Drums, Exhaustion, Kiss, Lack of Pretense, Rotemburo
Year 13: Murakami Preparedness, Pacing Norwegian Wood, Character Studies and Murakami’s Financial Situation, Mental Retreat, Writing is Hard

In 南ヨーロッパ、ジョギング事情 (Southern Europe, The Jogging Situation), Murakami writes about his experience jogging in southern Europe. Jogging is city culture, and even large cities like Rome are slower-paced and not as quick with trends, so the customs here seem to annoy Murakami. People ask him questions about what he’s doing, he gets chased by stray dogs on his way from his housing to areas where he can jog, and the people who do jog seem obsessed with jogging in groups and chatting while they jog, not something Murakami the running fanatic is interested in.

There’s a nice section at the end of the chapter where Murakami talks about how he takes in a city through jogging; driving is too fast, so you lose the details, and walking takes too much time, but with jogging you can cover ground and still get a good sense of the culture. It brings us to this nice passage he uses to end the chapter:

ある種の人々が知らない土地にいくと必ず大衆酒場に行くように、またある種の人々が知らないに行くと必ず女と寝るように、僕は知らない土地に行くと必ず走る。走ることで僕にしか感じられないことを感じようとする。そういうのが上手くいくこともあり、いかないこともある。でもまあ走る。なにはともあれ走ることは好きだし、知らない土地を走るのはとても心愉しいことなのだ。まるで買ったばかりのノートの一ページめを開いたときのように。(203)

Just as a certain type of people always go to local bars when they go to an unfamiliar place and another type of people always sleep with women when they go to an unfamiliar place, I always run when I go to an unfamiliar place. Through running, I try to feel what only I can feel. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn’t. But still, I run. If for no other reason, I love running, so it’s pleasant to run in an unfamiliar place. It’s like opening up a fresh notebook to the first page.

This is a nice passage, but there’s that one line that’s a little off, no? The way some people sleep with a woman whenever they go somewhere new? This feels pretty dated.

There’s an earlier passage in the chapter in which Murakami talks about the Italian approach to jogging. He tells a story he heard from someone in Malta: Other than eating, talking, and seducing women, Italians never try to do anything very hard, his Maltan friend says. They’ll never win a war. After an extensive quote from this source, we get back to Murakami’s opinions:

僕も本当にそうだと思う。そういう意味ではイタリアっていい国なのだ。そしてそういう国では人はあまり無意味に走らないのだ。

ドイツでは娼婦でさえ毎朝ランニングをしているのだ。なんだか村上龍の『ニューヨーク・シティ・マラソン』みたいな話だけれど、僕は実際にハンブルクでそういう娼婦と話をしたことがある。彼女は毎朝オルスター湖のまわりを走っているのだと言った。僕も同じコースを走っていたので試しにタイムを訊ねてみたのだが、まあちょっとしたタイムであった。凄いねと僕が言うと、彼女は肩をすくめてだって体が資本でしょうと言った。そう、娼婦も小説家も体が資本なのだ、よ。 (199-200)

I believe this, too. This is one reason Italy is a nice country. And in a country like this, people don’t just run for no reason.

In Germany, even prostitutes go for a morning run. It might sound like something out of Murakami Ryū’s New York City Marathon, but I’ve actually spoken to such a prostitute in Hamburg once. She said she ran around the Alster Lakes every morning. I was running the same path, so I decided to ask how long it took her, and it was a pretty respectable time. That’s amazing, I said, and she shrugged and said, my body is an asset. That’s right—for both prostitutes and novelists, their bodies are an asset.

Murakami continues to show his obsession with physical exertion as a metaphor for writing. This is an odd comparison. And the sociological premise also is somewhat questionable. So maybe not his finest work here. Maybe we can chalk it up to being the 80s and Murakami having some culture shock? But some of this is Murakami through and through.

On a total side note, Murakami Ryū has a pretty cool website with a trailer for the book that gets mentioned, which is apparently about a prostitute who attempts to run the New York City Marathon.

Writing is Hard

The last week of Murakami Fest 2020! We get five weeks this year. Hooray!

Previous Murakami Fest Posts:

Year 1: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year 2: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year 3: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year 4: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year 5: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year 6: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year 7: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year 8: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year 9: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year 10: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year 11: Embers, Escape, Window Seats, The End of the World
Year 12: Distant Drums, Exhaustion, Kiss, Lack of Pretense, Rotemburo
Year 13: Murakami Preparedness, Pacing Norwegian Wood, Character Studies and Murakami’s Financial Situation, Mental Retreat

On New Year’s Eve 1986, the Murakamis heads from Mykonos to Athens and then to Rome where he spends New Year’s. People are eating lentils and drinking champagne to celebrate. After celebrating, they head to Sicily for a month, which left a definite impression on Murakami — he notes that if they hadn’t already paid the rent and didn’t have a work commitment (an essay for an in-flight magazine), they would have left early. The city is dirty and run down, violent with crime, and noisy.

Not a great writing atmosphere: He goes as far as calling it Hell (地獄). Murakami manages to write, but the stress of Palermo gives him nightmares, which feels exceptional because he’s said he doesn’t dream very much.

The opera and food in town are the highlights for his time there — he sees three operas and eats heaping plates full of ikasumi linguine.

There’s a nice passage about writing at the beginning of the section, right after he describes how miserable Palermo is:

I lived in that city for a month. And the whole time I was writing Norwegian Wood. I wrote about a sixth of the way through that novel here. Unlike Mykonos, I wasn’t able to go out for walks even when the sun was out, which I guess was tough. If I suddenly wanted a quick change scenery, I couldn’t just take one. So we twice left Palermo to go on short trips. We went once to Taormina and once to Malta. Then we returned to Palermo where I confined myself to the room and worked.

It was hard to keep writing the novel every day. There were times it even felt like I was grinding down my bones or consuming my own flesh. (You might say that it isn’t that massive a novel. But to the writer, that was what it felt like.) However, it was more painful not to write. Writing is hard. But writing itself wants to be written. The most important thing when this happens is focus. The focus to throw yourself into that world. And the strength to sustain that focus for as long as possible. If you do this, you’ll find that at some point you conquer the pain. And you have to believe in yourself. Believe that you have the strength within yourself to complete it.

そんな街に一ヶ月住んだ。そしてそのあいだずっと『ノルウェイの森』を書いていた。その小説のだいたい六合めくらいまではここで書いた。ミコノスとは違って、日が暮れてもちょっと外に散歩に出るということができなくて、それが辛いといえば辛かった。さて気分転換をと思っても、それができない。そこで二回ばかりパレルモを離れて小旅行に出た。一度はタオルミナに、もう一度はマルタ島に行った。そしてパレルモに帰ってくると、また部屋にこもって仕事をした。

毎日小説を書き続けるのは辛かった。時々自分の骨を削り、筋肉を食いつぶしているような気さえした。(それほど大層な小説ではないじゃないかとおっしゃるかもしれない。でも書く方にしてみればそれが実感なのだ)。それでも書かないでいるのはもっと辛かった。文章を書くことは難しい。でも、文章の方は書かれることを求めているのだ。そういうときにいちばん大事なものは集中力である。その世界に自分を放り込むための集中力である。そしてその集中力をできるだけ長く持続させる力である。そうすれば、ある時点でその辛さはふっと克服できる。それから自分を信じること。自分にはこれをきちんと完成させる力があるんだと信じること。 (183)

This feels like good advice…to be taken with a grain of salt. Murakami’s writing advice often feels like it will result in “the scroll.” I think this is the recipe for a lot of bad first drafts, which are necessary to eventually produce good writing, but given what we know about Murakami’s later output, I’m not sure how much editing is being done. Murakami is a sixth done with his novel in January/February 1987, and it goes to press in September. Norwegian Wood itself was a revision project, working based on a short story, so maybe that’s why it works better than some of his other projects. He’s not just sitting down to knock out Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World Vol. 3.

That’s all for Murakami Fest this year! I’ll be back next year with more chapters. I’m curious to see what other bits about Norwegian Wood make it into these little memoirs.

Mental Retreat

Week four of Murakami Fest 2020!

Previous Murakami Fest Posts:

Year 1: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year 2: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year 3: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year 4: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year 5: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year 6: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year 7: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year 8: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year 9: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year 10: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year 11: Embers, Escape, Window Seats, The End of the World
Year 12: Distant Drums, Exhaustion, Kiss, Lack of Pretense, Rotemburo
Year 13: Murakami Preparedness, Pacing Norwegian Wood, Character Studies and Murakami’s Financial Situation

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

This chapter is titled “Retreat from Mykonos.” Murakami is leaving Mykonos, and during the day of departure his mind is preoccupied with Napoleon’s retreat from Russia.

The retreat seems tied in with the terrible weather (it’s rained almost the whole month, it’s raining again as he leaves) and some of the frustrations he’s faced during his time there: He’s working extremely hard on his writing, and he’s had some run-ins with an annoying foreigner living on Mykonos.

The retreat gets blended in with his own experience, a technique that he explores more in depth a few years later in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle through Cinnamon Akasaka, who has a divided self and writes out his grandfather’s vivid experiences in Manchuria. You could also argue that the technique dates back to one of his earliest short stories—“A Poor-Aunt Story.” Although the rain section below more closely mirrors that story. It’s a striking effect. Here’s how the chapter begins:

February 20, 1986. Sunday. Rain.

I’m leaving this island today.

I woke up at 6:30, sat at my desk and worked on the novel for an hour, and then put the bundle of papers into a large envelope when I made it to a temporary stopping place. Then I placed this securely at the bottom of my suitcase so it wouldn’t get folded. Today is also the end of my stay on Mykonos. However, now that I think about the month and a half I’ve lived here, the weather has been awful the entire time. Once or twice a week we’d get perfectly clear days. But other than that it was terrible. It rained, or it was windy, or it was rainy and windy. And most days the sky was gloomily overcast. We were surrounded by beautiful coastline, but I was only able to get in the water and go swimming once.

In the end, our final day here is rainy as well. A silent, misty rain. The wind is also blowing.

一九八六二月二十日。日曜日。雨。

僕は今日この島を出て行こうとしている。

六時半に起きて、机に向かって一時間ばかり小説の続きを書き、とりあえずのきりがついたところで、そのレターペーパーの束を大判の封筒に入れる。そしてしわにならないように、しっかりとしたスーツケースの一番底にしまいこむ。今日でミコノスの滞在も終わりである。しかし考えてみればここで暮らした一ヵ月半、まったくひどい天気ばかりだった。週に一日か二日、からりと晴れた美しい日がやってくる。でもあとはひどいものだ。雨が降るか、風が吹くか、あるいは雨が降って風が吹くかだ。そして空はたいていどんより暗く曇っている。こんなに美しい海岸に囲まれていながら、実際に海に入って泳ぐことができたのはたった一度だけだった。

結局最後の日も雨だ。細かい無音の雨。風も吹いている。

I’ll pause here and offer some commentary, the only commentary necessary: Can you imagine if he’d somehow lost his luggage or if the manuscript had been otherwise destroyed?! Obviously, writing by hand was the only option for Murakami at the time, but it feels so tenuous! I wonder whether he tried to make copies of his manuscripts or if he mailed it back to his editor in Japan. We do know that he when he submitted his first novella, the story that would become Hear the Wind Sing, he mailed his only copy to Gunzō. (I can’t seem to track down where Murakami has noted this. I thought for sure I’d blogged about it, but the best I can find in my archives is the fact that he’d completely forgotten that he’d submitted to the contest. UPDATE: Thank you to Mikhail in the comments who notes that Murakami makes this claim in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.) I’ll have to read more chapters and find out if he mentions what he did in Europe.

Murakami continues:

Just behind the house we rented is a modest sheep pasture (although it’s basically just a empty field), and usually there are 30 to 40 sheep grazing there. From time to time the shepherds, a mean couple (they look straight out of one of Dickens’ novels) come over and hit the sheep who don’t listen with a crook, unleashing a stream of foul curses at them as they do. I can look out over the whole pasture from the window in front of my desk. I kind of started looking forward to those pauses in my work when I happened to lift my eyes and see a mother sheep with her lambs from the window, but winter has deepened and the grass grown more scarce, and ten days ago every last one of the sheep were transferred to a different pasture. Now there is only a barren, brown expanse of ground beneath the window. Gone are the lambs clinging desperately to their mother’s legs, and gone are their monotonous, sing-song bleats that seemed to be underlined with a ruler. When I look at the empty pasture, it’s clear that the season has wrenched away its fair share.

Beyond the pasture is a road that runs up to the mountains, and an old truck filled with what looks like construction materials lurches its way up. The misty morning rain chills and dampens everything on the ground. As I glance outside, I think about the chapter I just finished writing. When I write on a rainy morning, somehow it ends up being writing that feels like a rainy morning. No matter how much work I put into it later on, I can never get the scent of that morning rain out of it. The scent of the rain falling silently on the lonely pasture, from which each and every sheep has disappeared. The scent of the rain that covered that old truck crossing the mountains. My writing is redolent with that morning rain. Partly out of fate.

我々の借りた家のすぐ裏手に、ささやかな羊の放牧地(というよりはただの原っぱみたいなものだけれど)があって、そこにはだいたい三十頭から四十頭の羊たちが放し飼いにされていた。ときどき意地の悪そうな羊飼いの夫婦がやってきて(ディケンズの小説に出てきそうな風貌のカップルである)、杖で言うことをきかない羊たちを口ぎたなくののしりながらひっぱたいた。机の前の窓から、その放牧地を見渡すことができた。僕は仕事のあいまにふと目を上げて、窓から羊の母子の姿を眺めるのをささやかな楽しみにしていたのだが、冬が深まるにつれて草はどんどん乏しくなり、羊たちは十日ばかり前に一頭残らずどこかべつの放牧地に移送されてしまった。今では貧相な茶色の地面が窓の下にがらんと広がっているだけだ。母羊の脚に必死にしがみつく子羊たちの姿ももう見られないし、あの定規で引いたように抑揚のない一本調子の鳴き声ももう聞こえない。からっぽの放牧地を見ていると、季節がその取りぶんをしっかりともぎとって行ってしまったことがよくわかる。

放牧地の向こうには山に向かう坂道があり、古いトラックが建材のようなものを積んで、よたよたと山を登っていく。朝の細かい雨が地表のありとあらゆるものを冷たく濡らしている。僕はぼんやりと外を眺め、さっき書き終えたばかりの章のことを考える。雨の朝に文章を書くと、どういうわけかそれは雨の朝のような文章になってしまう。あとでどれだけ手を入れてみても、その文章から朝の雨の匂いを取り去ることはできない。羊たちが一頭残らず失われてしまった寂しい放牧地に、音もなく降る雨の匂い。山を越えていく古びたトラックを濡らす雨の匂い。僕の文章はそんな雨の朝の匂いに包まれている。半分運命的に。

This is the section that strikes me as most like “A Poor-Aunt Story.” I love the idea that something from the writer’s current situation and self are imprinted on the work. If you think about it, there are parts of Norwegian Wood that do have the kind of gray, melancholic frustration that Murakami is describing here.

Murakami continues with breakfast after his writing:

I go downstairs and heat up some water and grill pancakes. Today is our last day, so I have to find a clever way to use up each and every item that’s left in the refrigerator. We have a little pancake mix, milk, and eggs left in the fridge. So anyone would come to the conclusion we’re having pancakes for breakfast.The balance between the mix, eggs, and milk is slightly off, but I guess there’s nothing we can do about it. That’s part of taking care of leftovers. Left over—as I cut the pancakes into small pieces and bring them to my mouth, I find myself thinking of Napoleon’s retreat from Russia. The most difficult retreat with the least to gain. Cossack troops dominate fields covered in snow. Blizzards. The sound of cannons.

My wife asks, Want some tomato?

We have a lot of tomato left over. I’ll have some, I say. I cut the tomato, add some salt and lemon juice, and sprinkle on some herbs I cut up. Coffee, pancakes, and tomato salad, soldiers cross frozen rivers, and destroy bridges with their hands growing numb. They are so far from home.

僕は階下に下りてキッチンで湯を温めてパンケーキを焼く。今日が最後の日なので、冷蔵庫の中にのこっているものをひとつひとつ手際よく片付けていかなくてはならないのだ。冷蔵庫の中にはパンケーキの粉が少しとミルクと卵が残っている。だからこれは誰がどう考えても朝御飯はパンケーキということになる。粉と卵と牛乳のバランスがいささか悪いが、これはまあ仕方ないだろう。残りものを片づけるというのはそういうことなのだから。残りもの---僕はそんなパンケーキを小さく切って口に運びながら、ふとナポレオンの軍隊がロシアから撤退した時のことを思い出す。いちばん難しく、いちばん得るところの少ない撤退戦。雪原を跳梁するコサック兵。雪嵐。砲声。

トマト食べる?と女房が尋ねる。

トマトがいっぱい余っているよ。食べる、と僕は言う。トマトを切って塩とレモン汁をかけ、香草を刻んでふりかける。コーヒーとパンケーキとトマトのサラダ、兵士たちは凍てつく河を渡り、かじかむ手で橋を焼き落とす。彼らはあまりにも遠く故郷を離れたのだ。(162-164)

This is really just the start of this technique, but you can already see how he weaves his mental experience in with the physical environment. His wife’s interruption is on its own line, bringing us back to reality before Murakami deals with the tomatoes and then gradually sinks back into his thought process.

As a literary work, this might be the most interesting chapters so far.

The other interesting connection with Norwegian Wood/Murakami’s oeuvre is Murakami’s generational angst. Murakami has been pretty critical of people who protested in the late-60s only to sell out and join the Bubble era. We see this implicitly in Norwegian Wood: the narrator is a writer, still suffering from psychological wounds from the past, while his classmate Nagasawa goes on to serve as a MOFA officer after having treated his girlfriend Hatsumi so poorly. Hatsumi gets married and seems to go on to a happy life but ends up committing suicide. In one of the rare glimpses of the narrator’s present, there’s a scene when he’s on a job in Santa Fe with the sun setting beautifully, which reminds him of Hatsumi’s tragedy.

We also see this outlook in short stories like “Poolside” from Dead Heat on a Merry-go-round and in “A Folklore of My Generation: A Prehistory of Late-Stage Capitalism.”

But in this chapter Murakami ends us seeming like the cynical one. Later on in the chapter he has an encounter with “Belgian John,” a foreigner who comes by to collect the electric bill. He’s ended up on Mykonos after becoming disillusioned with mass publication and abandoning his dreams of working as an editor in publishing. John seems like a condescending jerk, and Murakami is pretty critical of his “turn on, tune in, drop out” attitude. He dismisses him as a Baby Boomer, a relic of the 60s.

I think ultimately the criticism seems to be leveled at a lack of effort. Belgian John isn’t even trying to stay connected. It’s an interesting section. I won’t excerpt any of it here, but it’s worth a read if you’re looking at Murakami from this perspective or just want to see his writing style.

***

I mentioned this two weeks ago, but it’s worth posting the link again: Murakami revisits Mykonos 24 years later in 2010 and writes about the experience in an essay that was part of the collection 『ラオスにいったい何があるというんですか?』(What Exactly Do They Say is in Laos?). I wrote about it four years ago. Murakami revisits the apartment where they stayed but seems to have forgotten that the winter drove off the sheep when he lived there the first time.

Character Studies and Murakami’s Financial Situation

Welcome back to Murakami Fest 2020!

Previous Murakami Fest Posts:

Year 1: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year 2: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year 3: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year 4: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year 5: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year 6: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year 7: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year 8: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year 9: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year 10: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year 11: Embers, Escape, Window Seats, The End of the World
Year 12: Distant Drums, Exhaustion, Kiss, Lack of Pretense, Rotemburo
Year 13: Murakami Preparedness, Pacing Norwegian Wood

The next chapter is titled “The Port and Vangelis” (港とヴァンゲリス), and it nicely summarizes the somewhat disorganized chapter that serves as a travel sketch and profile.

A big part of Murakami’s life on Mykonos revolves around the weather and availability of fish. They have to rush to the market in the morning to buy fish. There’s no fish store, just the market, and everything available sells out in a 30-minute window after the boats return from fishing in the morning. So when the weather is calm, they rush to the market and buy a few days’ worth of fish.

Greek food doesn’t sit well for them, and they end up needing to purge with simple meals after eating too much of the local food. Murakami goes on extensively about hanging out octopus to dry before cooking it, and there is even a photo included of an octopus strung out with Mykonos in the background included in the text. (Photo above is not from the book, but rather from Wikimedia Commons.)

This chapter is a good example of Murakami capturing characters on his trip. This section about the fish market leads naturally to their building manager Vangelis, who walks around the market talking with everyone. He manages a set of 20-30 two-floor buildings all surrounded by a wall. Each building has two maisonette style apartments. He’s turning 60 the following year and is relatively uneducated but has good intuition. He has a son and a daughter and two grandchildren. Family is important to him, and he seems disappointed Murakami doesn’t have kids. I’d say he could serve as inspiration for the Colonel in Hard-boiled Wonderland, but he’d already published that book by this point. It’s almost the reverse: one of his fictional characters come to life in the form of a middle-aged Greek man.

I enjoyed this part about Vangelis on Christmas Day:

Vangelis doesn’t drink while he works. But on Christmas Day, he put on his best suit and got quite drunk in his building manager’s office. Well, Christmas is basically like Japanese New Year’s. When Vangelis gets drunk, he turns bright red, is much more cheerful than usual, and talks loudly. He offered me some whiskey. He filled a glass to the brim. The whiskey was Johnny Walker Red Label. He was extremely proud to be drinking Johnny Walker. He must’ve been saving it specially for Christmas. He usually drinks cheap wine. He never drinks uzo. A long time ago he got drunk on uzo and something happened, so he seems to have sworn off it. No matter how much uzo I offered, Vangelis never took a sip of it. “Uzo is bad liquor,” he said with a dark look on his face. “Makes you an idiot. Haruki, you should be careful. Drink wine instead.”

ヴァンゲリスは仕事中は酒を飲まない。でもクリスマスの日には一張羅のスーツを着込んで、管理人室でかなり酔っぱらっていた。まあクリスマスといえば正月みたいなものである。ヴァンゲリスは酔っぱらうと真っ赤になって、いつもより陽気になり、声が大きくなる。そして僕にウィスキーを飲ませる。グラスになみなみと注いでくれる。ウィスキーはジョニー・ウォーカーの赤ラベルである。彼はジョニー・ウォーカーを飲んでいることがすごく得意そうだった。きっとクリスマス用に大事にとっておいたお酒なのだろう。いつもはだいたい安物のワインを飲んでいる。ウゾーは飲まない。昔ウゾーで酔っぱらって何かあって、それで懲りたのかもしれない。僕がどれだけウゾーを進めても、ヴァンゲリスは絶対に口をつけなかった。「ウゾー、悪い酒。頭バカになる。ハルキも気をつけたほうがいい。ワインにしなって」と言って暗い顔をした。 (156)

Vangelis takes a liking to the Murakamis and ends up serving as a social go-between for them. He takes them with him to Cafe Neon, a space for locals where foreign tourists aren’t usually welcomed. He pours them wine, points out items on the menu, and eventually the cafe warms up to the Murakamis.

The chapter ends with one additional character, whom Murakami calls T氏 (T-shi, Mr. T). This is interesting because so far Murakami has referred to everyone by name. I think this is likely because T is the property owner and the description of him isn’t flattering. He tries to sell one of the buildings to Murakami, who decides not to make a purchase. There is a cryptic mention of his finances in Tokyo:

But of course we didn’t buy one. They were nice vacation houses and pretty well built, the price was high but fair, and I liked the manager, Vangelis. But at that time, we didn’t have the leeway (we’d left Japan because financially we’d had a bit of instability), plus Greece is a little far from Japan. It’s not an easy place to access, where you might say, guess I’ll go to Guam for a bit, even if you had the time. If you had a vacation house in a place like Greece it would just end up being a lot of work.

でももちろん僕らは買わなかった。なかなかよくできた良いリゾート・ハウスだったし、値段も高いなりにまあ妥当な値段だったし、管理人ヴァンゲリスのことも気に入っていた。でもそのときは僕らにはそんな余裕はなかったし、(僕らは経済的にはそれなりの不安を抱えて日本を出てきたのだ)、それにギリシャは日本からいささか遠すぎる。暇ができても、じゃあちょっとグアムにでも行くかという風に簡単に行けるところではない。そんなところにリゾート・ハウスを持っても手間がかかるでけである。(158)

This is interesting, and perhaps refers to some of the “negative reasons” he ended up needing to take the European trip. But it does feel strange. He’d given up the jazz bar gig after completing Pinball, 1973, had had some serious success and written lots of stories and four novels, including the lengthy Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, plus we know he’s exhausted from all the writing and writing-adjacent work he’s been doing. But I guess cost of living in Japan might have been high for the salary he was able to turn around? Interesting little passage.

Pacing Norwegian Wood

Year 1: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year 2: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year 3: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year 4: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year 5: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year 6: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year 7: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year 8: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year 9: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year 10: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year 11: Embers, Escape, Window Seats, The End of the World
Year 12: Distant Drums, Exhaustion, Kiss, Lack of Pretense, Rotemburo
Year 13: Murakami Preparedness

After a cold, rainy fall on Spetses, the Murakamis decide to relocate to Mykonos, which he describes in a chapter simply titled “Mykonos.” Murakami is skeptical because he’s been before (twice apparently!) and it was more touristy than he was hoping for.

But that was during the season. The travel agent convinces him to take an off season spot on Mykonos, which ends up being perfect…and one of his only options. Murkami thought a lot of apartments would be available during the off season, but supply availability drops with demand, and a lot of landlords have already taken off for the year and are on vacation. It becomes difficult to even get in touch with them.

Mykonos in the off season is quiet and he ends up being relatively productive. After a big chunk complaining about the terrible, cold weather and why so many Japanese visit during that season (fall honeymoon season, New Year’s travels), he talks about what he worked on:

But as a result, despite this terrible weather, or perhaps precisely because of this terrible weather, Mykonos during the off season was actually the ideal environment for me to quietly get some work done. Here I completed the translation of C.D.B. Bryan’s novel The Great Dethriffe. It was pretty long, but the story was interesting, and I wanted to get through it quickly and start working on my own novel, so I steadily worked through the translation every day. I still wasn’t using a word processor at this point, so I crammed my writing into a college notebook with a fountain pen.

Once I made it to the end of The Great Dethriffe, I wrote several sketch-like pieces of writing about life on Spetses (the basis for the essays in this book) and then got started on the long-awaited novel. During that time my body had this incredible itch to write a novel. I was parched, thirsting for words. “Bringing” myself to that point was the most important thing. You can’t write a long novel without bringing yourself right up to a point like that. Just like running a marathon, if you fail to make the adjustments to get to that point, you won’t have the breath for the long haul.

That novel would later become Norwegian Wood, but I didn’t have a title at that point. I started writing casually and with the goal of making it a smooth 300-350 pages or so of 400-character manuscript paper, but when I’d written 600 pages I realized, “That’s not gonna work. There’s no way I’ll finish in 300-400 pages.” From that point until April of the following year (1987) I became completely absorbed in novel life as we moved between Sicily and Rome. In the end, the completed novel was 900 pages.

でも結果的に言って、このようなひどい天候にもかかわらず、いや、このようなひどい天候なればこそ、シーズン・オフのミコノスは僕が静かに仕事をするには実にもってこいの環境だった。僕はここでC・D・B・ブライアンの『グレート・デスリフ』という小説の翻訳を仕上げた。けっこう長い小説だったのだけれど、面白い話だったし、とにかくこれを早く仕上げて自分の小説にかかろうと思って、こつこつと毎日翻訳を進めていた。この頃はまだワードプロセッサーを使っていなかったから、大学ノートに万年筆でぎっしりと字を書いていた。

『グレート・デスリフ』を最後まで仕上げてから、スペッツェス島での生活についていくつかスケッチのような文章を書き(ここに収められたものの原形である)、それから待ち兼ねていたように小説にかかった。その頃にはその小説が書きたくて、僕のからだはどうしようもなくむずむずしていた。からだが言葉を求めてからからにに乾いていた。そこまで自分のからだを「持っていく」ことがいちばん大事なのだ。長い小説というのはそれくらいぎりぎりに持っていかないと書けない。マラソン・レースと同じで、ここに来るまでの調整に失敗すると長丁場で息がつづかなくなる。

この小説はのちに『ノルウェイの森』になるわけだが、このときにはまだタイトルもついていない。四百字詰めで三百枚か三百五十枚くらいのさらっとした小説にしようというくらいの軽い気持ちで書き始めたのだが、百枚くらい書いたところで「こりゃ駄目だ、とても三百、四百じゃ終わらない」とわかった。以来翌年(一九八七)の四月まで、シシリー、ローマと移動しながらの小説漬けの生活にのめり込んでいくことになる。結局出来上がった小説は九百枚だった。 (140-141)

This is a fascinating look at Murakami’s productivity and practices. As usual, he knocks out translations and nonfiction like they’re nothing. The Great Dethriffe is 252 pages, a substantial translation. He then writes the essays. And then apparently gets a draft of Norwegian Wood written in what must be about a six-month span. Absolutely crazy.

900 pages with 400 characters means 360,000 characters, and at about 2.2 English words per character that’s just over 160,000 words. Not a huge novel like the kind that Murakami writes now, and he was working from the short story “Firefly” (nice little ode to “Firefly” right here) but a remarkable feat nonetheless. All done on the road while putting up with storms and all sorts of other challenges (which we’ll see in later chapters)!

Murakami spends the rest of the chapter reminiscing about the different bars on Mykonos. After he writes every day (time his wife spends reading books, studying Italian, playing with cats, and not talking to him), they go to a bar and talk.

As usual Murakami does a good job of capturing the other people they run into. Bar owners, residents who have been to Japan before, the foreign community, and he ends the chapter with a sense that Mykonos is a place filled with people who are a little lost.

This is such a great book (rough at times, but full of energy), and it’s a shame it hasn’t been translated.

*

A brief aside about The Great Dethriffe. It’s a terrible book. The New York Times panned it when it was published. Japanese reviewers on Amazon have this to say about it:

グレート・ギャツビー(村上春樹訳)を読んで、数日後に読破。残念ながら、グレート・ギャツビーにかないいません。村上春樹さんの力の入れようも違うのかな。(I read The Great Gatsby [Haruki Murakami’s translation] and finished it in just a few days. Unfortunately, this doesn’t hold a candle to The Great Gatsby. Maybe Murakami was wrong to put his energy into this.)

Even C.D.B. Bryan didn’t like it: One of his children has a blog with anecdotes from his letters, including this line: “So I went back to read Dethriffe yesterday and hated every minute of it. Why is it so difficult to reread something after it has been published.”

So I was extremely confused about how Murakami came to translate a book published in 1970 during the fall of 1986, why he chose to do so, and whether there might have been anything in the book that drew him to it or would speak to his own style.

To be an absolute completionist, I bought a copy on Amazon, read a few chapters, and then speed read the rest of the book. It’s not good. There are pages and pages of dialogue that should have been cut, a few bizarre racist and sexist passages (that might be jokes?), and not much going for it other than a prescient sense of how far the Gatsby revival would take F. Scott Fitzgerald stock. It reads almost like a pastiche of Gatsby had Gatsby actually married Daisy and then realized the wanting is better than the getting.

I think the Gatsby connection is the main reason Murakami translated this book. Maybe they thought they could cash in on the connection or something. There are some extended passages of people telling stories, a technique Murakami has used frequently, but he had already developed it at this point in his career. It wasn’t anything new. Bryan also makes the mistake of telling these stories completely within dialogue, never switching to third person, which is one of the pleasures of the technique.

*

Murakami returns to Mykonos 24 years later to make a pilgrimage to the spot where he wrote Norwegian Wood, and he’s actually able to take a peek into the place where he lived. I wrote about this essay back in 2016.

Murakami Preparedness

Welcome to Murakami Fest 2020! This year I’ll be looking at five chapters from 遠い太鼓 (Tōi taiko, Distant Drums), his travel memoir from Europe. It’s an interesting chunk of time—October 1986 through January 1987. This is when Murakami begins writing Norwegian Wood. This is notable because we know the book is published on September 4, 1987. He does have a head start with the short story “Firefly,” which forms part of the story, but he still finds a way to knock out this book in less than a year. Probably much less than that. Incredible.

This is Year 13. We’re a teenager. Here are the previous entries:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year Eight: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year Nine: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year Ten: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year Eleven: Embers, Escape, Window Seats, The End of the World
Year Twelve: Distant Drums, Exhaustion, Kiss, Lack of Pretense, Rotemburo

In the chapter I’m looking at today, titled “A Storm Arrives” (嵐来る), the Murakamis deal with an unexpected storm on Spetses that lasts from October 27 to October 30 with a brief pause in the middle. A few neighbors mention to him in passing that it’s going to rain, but they are surprised by the intensity of the storm, which begins to flood the house where they’re staying. They’re forced to mop up with rags and stuff newspapers in the doors to try and prevent water from getting in.

During an initial break after the first day, they go out for fast food and even catch a movie, but the storm starts for real the next day, and eventually everything in the apartment is cold and wet. They have a sparse cabinet: enough spaghetti for one serving, tomatoes, cucumbers, a little bacon, onion, canned mushrooms, and coffee.

So we get this nice little section:

“Think we’ll be ok? This is all the food we have,” my wife said in a worried tone.

“We’ll be fine,” I said. “No matter how strong a storm is, there’s always a moment in the middle when the rain cuts out. A little break. When that happens I’ll run over to Anargyros’ place and buy food. We’ll also get some info about the storm if I go to his place.”

“Will the rain really let up so perfectly?”

“It’ll let up. I grew up in Kansai, so I’m pretty familiar with how typhoons work.”

“Assuming Japanese typhoons and Greek storms work the same way,” she said with a look of doubt on her face. She has little faith in my abilities with anything in the worldly realm.

However, as I predicted, the rain suddenly stopped just before noon. The wind also stopped, and the clouds parted as well, as if the storm to this point had been a lie. Only occasional peals of thunder we could hear from the direction of the Peloponnesian peninsula remained. We were in the eye of the typhoon. I ran through the streets filled with puddles to Anargyros’ store. The usual shortcut had been turned into a river. At Anargyro’s store I bought two bags of crackers, cabbage, potatoes, two bottles of mineral water, and wine. Anargyros calculated the bill in his usual leisurely manner, writing numbers on a piece of paper with a look on his face like the storm had nothing to do with him.

“How about that storm?” I said.

“Yup. It rained a lot,” Anargyros said.

“Think it’ll rain tomorrow?” I tried asking.

“Yeah…might rain, might not…” Anargyros said with a grin.

Greeks have this way of occasionally making incredibly philosophical statements, and I always find myself fascinated by it.

「大丈夫かしら、食べるものがこれくらいしかなくて」と女房が心配そうに言う。

「大丈夫だよ」と僕は言う。「どんなに激しい嵐でも、途中でスッと雨の引く瞬間が必ずあるんだよ。中休みみたいに。そのときにひとっ走りアナルギロスのところに行って食料品を買ってくる。彼のところに行けば嵐の情報もわかるしね」

「本当にそんな風に雨がうまくあがるの?」

「ちゃんと上がるったら。僕は関西の育ちだから台風の構造には結構詳しいんだ」

「もし日本の台風とギリシャの嵐が同じような構造ならね」と彼女は疑わしそうな顔つきで言う。彼女は世俗的な領域における僕の能力をあまり信用していないのだ。

しかし僕の予言したとおり、昼前に突然すっと雨がやんだ。これまでの嵐が嘘のように、風も止み、雲も切れた。ペロポネソス半島の方から時折くぐもった雷鳴が聞こえるだけである。台風の目に入ったのだ。僕は水たまりだらけの道を走ってアナルギロスの店まで行った。いつもの近道は川と化していた。アナルギロスの店で僕はクラッカー二袋とキャベツとじゃが芋と、ミネラル・ウォーターを二本とワインを買った。アナルギロスは嵐も何も関係ないと言う顔で数字を紙に書いてあいかわらずのんびりと計算をした。

「嵐だね」と僕が言う。

「うん。雨たくさん降った」とアナルギロスは言う。

「明日も雨降るかな」と僕は訊いてみる。

「そうだね……降るかもしれないし、降らないかもしれないし……」とアナルギロスはにこにこして言う。

ギリシャ人というのはこのようにときどきものすごく哲学的な発言をするが、いちいち感心しているわけにはいかない。 (129-130)

This is a relatively unremarkable chapter but interesting in that we’d likely never be surprised by something like this these days, given how connected everyone is and how ubiquitous smartphones are.

Also, does Murakami buy enough food?! He adds crackers, potatoes, and cabbage—that’s it! Maybe it’s my pandemic prepping mindset or my experience stocking up for hurricanes, but you at least need to grab some milk and eggs before everyone else wipes out the shelves.

Rotemburo

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year Eight: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year Nine: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year Ten: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year Eleven: Embers, Escape, Window Seats, The End of the World
Year Twelve: Distant Drums, Exhaustion, Kiss, Lack of Pretense

100 pages into the memoir, Murakami has settled into life on the island and takes a chapter to capture his daily routines titled “A Day in the Life of a Novelist on Spetses” (スペッツェス島における小説家の一日).

Here’s a section from the beginning:

Once I finish breakfast, I run. At least 40 minutes, and at most about 100 minutes. When I get back I take a shower and get to work. While I’m on this trip, I’m planning to work on two translations, a set of travel sketches (like what I’m writing here), and a new novel. So I don’t have much free time at all. I work on my manuscript for a bit, and when I get bored I move to the translation. When I get bored of the translation, I work on the manuscript again. It’s like going to a rotemburo on a rainy day. When I start to feel light headed, I get out of the water, and when I get cold I get back in. This goes on and on. (110-111)

朝食が済むと走る。短くて四十分、長くて百分ぐらい。帰ってきてシャワーを浴び、仕事にかかる。今回の旅行中に仕上げる予定でいるのは翻訳二冊ぶんと、旅行のスケッチ(今書いているような文章)と、それから新しい長編小説。だから決して暇ではない。自前の原稿をしばらく書いてそれに飽きると翻訳に移る。翻訳作業に飽きると今度はまた自前の原稿を書く。雨の日の露天風呂と同じである。のぼせると湯から出て、冷えると湯に入る。延々とつづけられる。 (110-111)

It’s interesting to read about his daily routines. I feel like I read a different account that was like this but separated fiction and translation more cleanly into morning and afternoon activities – translation was something he said he could do once he’d already been somewhat exhausted by the work of writing fiction. I can’t seem to track down that passage.

After running and writing, Murakami and his wife walk into town. He gives a narrative account of the walk, describing the buildings, shops, and sights. They stop at a cafe and read the paper. Murakami makes friends at the restaurants and small stores, including one well-captured profile of a shop owner who helps him with his Greek and gets very curious about the camera he has with him.

Murakami makes lunch, his wife makes dinner. He goes fishing in between using stale bread and feta cheese as bait, as taught by the friendly store owner. Sometimes they eat out. And then there’s a lovely little ending to the chapter:

When we finish dinner, it’s already pitch dark outside. I read and listen to music in the living room, and my wife adds an entry to her journal, writes letters to friends, does our budgeting, or makes bizarre complaints like, “Gahh, I can’t stand this. I’m sick of getting older.” On cold nights we light a fire in the fireplace. Time passes quietly and comfortably as we zone out and stare at the fire. The phone doesn’t ring, and there are no deadlines. There’s no TV, either. There’s nothing. Just the crackling of the fire as it pops and hisses in front of us. The silence is blissful. We empty a bottle of wine, and after a straight whiskey, I get a little tired. I look at the clock, and it’s nearly 10:00. And then I just drift into a pleasant sleep. The day feels like I did so much and yet also like I did nothing at all. (123)

夕食が終わると外はもう真暗になっている。僕は居間で音楽を聴きながら本を読み、女房は日記をつけたり友だちに手紙を書いたり、お金の計算をしたり、「あーやだやだ、歳をとりたくない」などとわけのわからない愚痴を言ったりしている。寒い夜は暖炉に火を入れる。暖炉の火を眺めつつぼんやりとしていると、時は静かに気持ち良く過ぎ去っていく。電話もかかってこないし、締切りもない、テレビもない。何もない。目の前でパチパチと火がはぜているだけである。沈黙がひどく心地好い。ワインを一本空にし、ウィスキーをグラスに一杯ストレートで飲んだところで、いささか眠くなる。時計を見るとそろそろ十時である。そしてそのまま気持ち良く眠ってしまう。いっぱい何かをしたような一日であり、まるで何もしなかったような一日である。 (123)

The mention of the phone and deadlines ties in nicely with the earlier sections of the memoir. The tone here reflects how much has changed. Short, clear sentences, as compared with the longer, breathless ones from the earlier sections that reflect the chaos of the move and of life in Tokyo.

That’s it for Murakami Fest 2019! Already looking forward to next year and taking another close look at Murakami’s travels.

Lack of Pretense

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year Eight: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year Nine: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year Ten: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year Eleven: Embers, Escape, Window Seats, The End of the World
Year Twelve: Distant Drums, Exhaustion, Kiss

Murakami arrives on Spetses in mid-October, right at the end of the high season while there are still people on the beach. The bars and restaurants are full, there are breasts being bared (and people ogling those breasts), but there is also a transition as some leave and others return to the island during the change in seasons. The island is so small that they take a horse-drawn wagon to the house from the port.

Murakami talks about his jogs and how he discovers the island and how it’s changing. He recounts a time when he forgot to cash traveler’s checks and he and his wife are forced to be frugal over a weekend when the banks are closed—he does this in a funny way, imagining Greek choruses singing the takeaways behind he and his wife. He also recounts a big chunk of history of the island in the form of shipbuilding and war.

He and his wife gradually settle into the rhythm of life on the small, isolated island, and Murakami does what he’s always loved to do during down time: go to the movies. This is another excellent opportunity for him to do some location as character work:

There are two movie theaters in town, one which closes in the fall, and another that’s open year round. The one that closes is named “Cine Marina,” and the one that’s open is named “Cine Titania.” Both are on the outskirts of town, and neither look very much like a movie theater. “So, what do they look like?” you might ask, and I’d be flummoxed. To be perfectly honest, this is due to the fact that they don’t look like anything at all. If I had to describe them, I’d say they have the feel of those stores, ubiquitous in every shopping arcade, that give no hint of what they sell. They are much too narrow to be movie theaters, and the doors look like the doors on a run-of-the-mill general goods shop. The reason you can tell they’re movie theaters is entirely because of the movie posters hung outside the entrance. There are two posters, one labeled “ΣΗΜΕΡΑ (simera, today)” and the other “ΑΥΡΙΟ (avrio, tomorrow).” By which they mean this one is being shown today, and the other tomorrow, but as with most Greek ΑΥΡΙΟs, they weren’t really applicable. Sometimes when we went they showed the same thing as the day before, and other times they showed an entirely different film from what was advertised. So I thought the best policy was to take these as a sort of “rough hypothesis.” However, whatever the case was, the entrances had a total lack of pretense.

This lack of pretense differed slightly in sensibility from that of the movie theaters in the small cities of rural Japan. No matter how small and run down and dirty and reeking of piss a Japanese theater may be, it at least announces itself as a movie theater. The building is a little different from the surrounding buildings, and there’s what might best be called a festive atmosphere to the place, to one degree or another. However, the movie theaters on this island have none of that appearance. There are two posters, one says ΣΗΜΕΡΑ, the other ΑΥΡΙΟ, and that’s the end of the story. It was such a small town on such a small island that there must not have been any need to put out a sign notifying everyone that it was a movie theater.

町には映画館がふたつあって、片方は秋になると閉館し、片方は年間を通して開いている。閉館する方の名前は「シネマリーネ」、開いている方の名前は「ティタニア映画館」である。どちらの映画館も町外れにあるが、どちらも特に映画館らしい格好はしていない。じゃあいったいどういう格好をしているんだ、と聞かれても困る。はっきり言って、どういう格好もしていないからだ。あえて言うならば、どんな商店街の中にも必ずひとつは存在する「何を売っているのか見当もつかない店」という雰囲気である。映画館というにはあまりにも間口が狭く、扉もごく普通の雑貨屋みたいな感じの扉である。これが映画館だとわかるのは、ただひとえに入り口の脇に映画のポスターが貼ってあるからだ。ポスターは二枚あって、ひとつには「ΣΗΜΕΡΑ(シーメラ・本日)」ひとつには「ΑΥΡΙΟ(アーヴァリオ・明日)」という札がぺたんと貼ってある。こっちのは本日上映のやつで、こっちは明日上映のやつですよ、ということだが、大方のギリシャのΑΥΡΙΟがそうであるようにあまりあてにはならない。行ってみると昨日とおなじものをやっていたということもあるし、予告とは全然別の作品を上映していたということもある。だからこういう予告は「ある種のおおまかな仮説」というくらいに考えていた方が懸命であろうと思う。しかしいずれにせよ、全く愛想というものがない門構えである。

こいう愛想のなさは、日本の地方小都市の映画館のありかたとはいささか趣を異にしている。日本の映画館というのはどんなに小さくてぼろくて汚くて小便臭いところでも、一応ここは映画館ですという格好をしている。建物の感じも周りの普通の建物とはちょっと異なっているし、そこには程度の差こそあれ祝祭的とでもいうべき雰囲気が漂っている。ところがこの島の映画館にはそういった構えがまるでない。ポスターが二枚貼ってあって、一方がΣΗΜΕΡΑ、一方がΑΥΡΙΟ、それでおしまいである。どうせ狭い島の狭い町だから、いちいちここが映画館ですと看板を出して断る必要がないのだろう。(90-91)

The section on the theater is quite long and a lot of fun. He and his wife go to see a Bruce Lee movie. The have a bizarre encounter with an old woman at the entrance who insists it isn’t Bruce Lee, but a man shoes them into the theater where they discover it’s someone else reenacting the life of Bruce Lee. A horde of young kids are monkeying around in the theater until some of the adults who stroll in late shout them all down. It sounds like a pretty funny experience, and unfortunately too long to translate in completion here.

And as for the theaters themselves, it looks like they still exist! The photo at the top seems to be Cine Marina from a Wikimedia Commons entry, and there are a number of pages for Cine Titania, which appears much more theater-like these days after a 2017 facelift. The photo above, however, looks much like Murakami describes – a random, rural grocery store somewhere in Japan.