'Possibly an age of peace will coincide with the time when algae are the major source of food'

I'm back from Melbourne!

Our used-book acquisitions this time include the marvelous The Grubbag by Ita JONES, reportedly a collection of Jones's columns for the Liberation News Service in the late '60s. (We found it in Books for Cooks on Gertrude Street. Highly recommended store.)

Jaded Gen Xers that we are, we saw Grubbag first as a goof, but it turns out to be a truly great read—the kind of cookbook that makes you both keep and eat a chicken, to eat a bright-red tomato right there on the spot. And I do mean red. Here's Jones on breakfast:

And so the day began to open. Jennifer, with her fine blond hair standing out around her like a halo, began some jasmine tea as I dropped spoonfuls of the potato mixture into the pan. Two huge grapefruits fell into halves and yielded to a soft pile of brown sugar, and several eggs of different shades of white and gray pulled jewel-like bubbles in around them.

By seven o'clock the eggs were soft-boiled, the tea fragrantly waiting, the grapefruit radiant and the potato pancakes crisp and warm. The radio played softly. The huge paper was spread out. In the cold rain a Mexican family walked up and down the alley searching for pop bottles.

Never forget the Revolution.

Observations on rice:

Rice has been the backbone of Asia for a very long time. The longest continuous civilization in the history of man thrived, and still does, on rice. The only country to drive into frustration and desperation the most powerful imperialist force in the world thrives on rice.

Rice grows silently on hilltops which reflect the sky between the long, thin reeds and pass into the plants the indestructibility of clouds, which nothing can disperse and keep from reestablishing...

And here is an actual recipe, for Russian mushroom soup ("whatever we may think of Russia's collusion with the imperialists, that country's fresh mushroom soup is really good"):

  1. Sauté 2 medium onions, chopped, in 2 tsbp. butter.
  2. Add ½ lb. fresh mushrooms (including stems), trimmed and sliced, a bit more butter, and continue to sauté another 10 minutes over a low heat. As much as a half stick of butter may eventually be used.
  3. Place the onions and mushrooms in a large pot. Add 5 tbsp. barley, salt and pepper to taste (keep tasting now and then to check this), 3 fist-sized raw potatoes, diced, and 3 cups water. Cover and simmer the soup 45 minutes. More water can be added now and then.

    Up to this point everything can be done the night before, in which case you do Step 4 just before you plan to eat the soup. If you're cooking to eat it now and the 45 minutes have fragrantly passed:
  4. Add 3½ cups milk (which your body has probably been needing) and very, very slowly heat the soup, stirring constantly, just to the brink of boiling. A bit more or less milk can be used, depending on how you like the consistency of soup. Serve it sprinkled with freshly snipped parsley.


Rag time

No time for excitement today, so here is the least exciting information I have to hand: the ten types of clothing from which Dōgen suggested his disciples make their robes:

  1. 牛嚼衣, goshaku e: Clothing chewed by cows
  2. 鼠噛衣, soshi e: Clothing gnawed by rats
  3. 火焼衣, kashō e: Clothing burnt by fire
  4. 月水衣, gessui e: Clothing used for menstruation-related purposes (literally "moonwater clothing")
  5. 産婦衣, senbu e: Clothing used for childbirth-related purposes
  6. 神廟衣, jinmyō e: Clothing discarded after shrine-related use
  7. 塚間衣, chogen e: Clothing discarded after grave-related use
  8. 求願衣, kugan e: Clothing discarded after prayer-related use
  9. 王職衣, ōshiki e: Clothing donated by a king or noble
  10. 往還衣, ōgen e: Clothing used as a corpse's shroud (literally "going-home clothing")

The idea, as you have no doubt deduced, was to make use of rags that absolutely no-one could have any attachment to. This minimized one's effect on the world, taught one humility, and also ensured a real bargain. You think last season's tube tops are cheap at Uniqlo, try rummaging through the "chewed by cows" display.

Collectively these are known as funzō e, "clothing of dung-sweepings," allegedly corresponding to Sanskrit pamsukula. The Japanese pronunciations listed above are all taken with gratitude from the linked site. They seem to use the Wu readings, which isn't surprising for Buddhist jargon. But I can't find anyone else that will support chogen for 塚間, so I'll call 'em tentative for now.


Wu-HR best practices

Old Chinese story from the Soushen ji (捜神記, "Record of investigations into the uncanny", i.e. "The X-Files"):

During the Qin dynasty, the Drophead people (落頭民, Luotou min) lived in the south. Their heads could fly. There was a festival among their tribes known as Bugdrop (虫落, Chongluo), and that's how they got that name.

Okay, wait. This tribe of people, this tribe whose heads can leave their bodies, they get the name "Dropheads" because of some bug festival? Really? This has to be a joke or reference that I don't get.

Wu General Zhu Huan (朱桓) once hired a certain servant girl. Every night after she went to bed, her head would part from her body and fly away. Sometimes it would get in and out of the building via the pet door, sometimes through a high window, but always using its ears as wings. It would arrive back just before dawn.

After a few nights of this, the servants who slept near her grew suspicious. One night they brought a lamp into the room and saw only a body, with no head. The body was slightly cold and its breathing faint.

The other servants covered it with a blanket and waited. As dawn approached the head came back, but with the blanket in the way it could not come to rest. It hit the ground a few times, groaning and grinding its teeth and looking most unhappy. Her breathing grew ragged and she looked very close to death. So they pulled away the blanket, whereupon the head leapt up again and reattached itself to the neck. Then all was calm again.

General Zhu found all this quite uncanny. It unnerved him so much that he fired her, and let her leave unmolested. It wasn't until later, when he investigated the matter further, that he learned that it had just been her essential nature.

That must have been an awkward conversation on many levels. "Yeah, I had to let this one girl go, she... well, her head came off and flew around." "Oh, you mean a Drophead? They all do that." "They all...?" "It's their culture, man. You aren't...?" "I... uh, no, no... I have tons of Drophead friends... it's just, I mean, the way it flew was against company policy, I couldn't..." "... Right, right... Listen, I have to get going..."

Other generals who went far to the south often captured Dropheads. One covered the neck of a Drophead with a bronze plate, preventing the head from rejoining the body and thus killing it.

Christ, what an asshole.

Presumably this is related to the Japanese rokuro-kubi (remember, Hearn's RKs' heads were fully detachable!), or derived from the same weird pan-Asian ur-source...


A voice within me keeps repeating

The Landmark Tower in Yokohama is running an odd and confusing marketing campaign for their 15th anniversary.

The theme is "I LOVE YOU!" and it comes with a regular free paper called L and YOU, but when they say you, they actually mean You, only implying you by analogy. If you see what I mean.

And let's get this straight: that anthropomorphized tower really loves You. Here's a translation of a love letter it allegedly wrote to her (that is, You), which you can find under a picture of You on the back of the latest L and You:

Dear You,

Winter decorations are going up in the streets of Yokohama. Christmas will soon be here.

My beloved You.
How will you spend Christmas this year?
If the idea is agreeable to you, will you not come and visit me?
I shall bestow upon you feelings that you shall not forget for the rest of your life.

A white Christmas.

The snow of Christmas Eve, which brings lovers together: I shall make it fall within me, that my love might be transmitted thereby to you.

The story of our love is almost at its climax!

By the way, he's not just bragging; they really do have fake snow inside Landmark Tower at Christmastime.



Beyond the grave

Now at Néojaponisme: Naui the Undying, a column so terrifying that I could not in good conscience post it in time for Hallowe'en. My spirit guide warned me that the resultant scare spiral could have had half the prefecture hiding under their futons. True story.

Naui 「ナウい」was [...] declared dead almost as soon as it was born, reviled as a desperate attempt to squeeze a few more youth dollars out of an already-uncool borrowed English lexeme (”now”). As a word in its own right, nau had already demonstrated a tenacity rivaling Madeline Usher’s, but naui was fated to surpass its progenitor in every respect. It became a lexicographic Cartaphilus ― cursed to wander the sentences of Japanese forever, scorned and reviled but never granted the peace of oblivion. Its unforgivable sin? To once have both been and meant "fashionable."


All is vanity

So I'm sitting across from a bored-looking Shingon priest—he is literally resting his chin on his hand—trying to think of something to talk about, and also trying to gather the courage to reach out and take one of the red bean paste swiss rolls on the tray that's to be shared by all but has been placed in front of him as a mark of respect.

I mean obviously I don't need this piece of cake to live or even to be healthy. It's pure desire, man, kleśā, 煩悩. But also he must see this struggle within me. Come to think of it, he must see it whenever he has to sit down with a family somewhere. He's probably thinking, Christ, just eat the cake already, Enlightened One. Well, he might not be thinking "Christ."

But then of course I'd just crave the next piece, and so on.

That's when I realize that I'm in a parable.