Natsume Soseki (1867-1916) wrote a number of zuihitsu (literary essays) about his pets, of which “Buncho” (1909) is the most delicately crafted. It is the story of a caged bird that was brought to the writer as a companion in his lonely study, but which in the end died of neglect, despite the initial attention it received.
Thirty years ago, when she was first here with her husband and two young children, they’d come in the summer—June—so that Otto could teach a study abroad course, and the city then was a lush racket of color. The pale blue and pink and gold ornamental bric-a-brac of Belle Époque architecture. Stoops cluttered with terra cotta pots spilling herbs. Window box gardens bursting geraniums the startling florescent red of she-didn’t-know- what. It was all exactly as she’d envisioned Paris since she’d first wanted to go as a sixteen-year-old sitting in a high school French class.
Hope misses the city, and I miss Hope. So every other weekend I buy a bottle of wine and drive up the valley to see her and Little Girl in their new suburban home, where they live with Hope’s boyfriend, a pilot.
The camp took place in the bucolic township of Yongpyong, a three-hour bus ride east of Seoul. Twenty professors from top conservatories convened at Alpine Valley Hotel with their flocks of protégés numbering about a hundred in all, predominantly girls. Over the next two weeks, we were to learn from the venerated masters and perform in the concerts held every other evening in the hotel’s grand banquet hall.
I used to sit in the kitchen and draw when Jean visited my mother. I loved to show my completed drawings to Jean. She made me feel as if I’d discovered an elemental truth, or shown her something vital. Once, when I handed her a picture I’d done of a yellow lion with spindly legs and huge round eyes, she looked at it with consideration and said, “You know, it doesn’t look like a real lion. But I think you’ve caught the spirit of a lion here, and that’s a lot more important. This lion has lion-ness.”