Since it was so hot today, I bought strawberries from a stall on the side of the road. When I got home I washed them in a colander and cut off their tops and halved them. After that I put them in a Japanese-style bowl and poured milk with two dissolved sugar cubes on top. Some of the strawberries were a bit mushy, but it was so hot it didn’t matter. They were good and refreshing to eat. The man who sold them to me by the Unimarc grocery store had headphones on and was humming a song I didn’t know. He was surrounded by fruits and was probably wanted to distract himself from the fact that his merchandise would soon spoil. Probably I should have asked for a discount, but I was so eager to get home and eat those strawberries.
Once home, I considered blending the strawberries into a juice. Recently I have acquired a juicer, a concession to a certain domesticity that has never come to my naturally, but for which I have a certain respect. The juicer has a green-blue base. Is the word ‘teal’ or ‘turquoise’? I suppose it depends on the order of green and blue around the hyphen. In any case, it was a color that was described to me as feminine, which I do not think is the case, necessarily. I do think that the color nicely compliments the colors in the rest of the room, without being particularly tied to one gender. The juicer is not limited to preparing juices; that is, it could conceivably cut up and blend other things as well, vegetables to go into a soup for example. It was bought, however, with the intent of being used as a juicer, a machine capable of taking the elements inserted into it and transforming them into something that can be sipped through a straw, in which the individual flavors are discerned, but made into a product that is entirely new, a blend, a synthesis.
The juicer is fairly lo-fi, that is, it is not a juicer of the sort in which you can insert the vegetables with their peels, and watch them turn into liquid, but rather one that requires a bit of prior effort on the part of the user, who must first chop the fruit into manageable pieces. This reminds me of a metro station near where I grew up, which was just slightly too far from the house for walking distance, so that a drive to the station was necessary before boarding, a pre-effort that nearly made one want to give up the idea of traveling by public transport at all, since one could just keep driving until one arrived all the way at the destination—say, San Francisco. The same phenomenon occurs with the fruits that are meant to go into the juicer, that is, one feels the urge to keep chopping them into finer and finer pieces, until the work of the blender has essentially been completed by the knife, and a sweet juice runs from the fruit of its own accord.
Precisely due to this reluctance to take the ‘next step’ of effort, the effort required to not only chop but subsequently transfer the fruit to the blender, I decided to eat the strawberries as they were, adorned only by a light sprinkling of sugar. I sat down with the bowl and started to read a book by a French author, which quickly pulled me in. It was surprising to me to discover how common the imagery of eating a heart is in the western tradition. It shows up again and again as a staple of funeral banquets (an attempt to incorporate the body of the dead lover) as well as in the form of an undesired meal served up as a form of revenge (a meal served by a husband to his cheating wife composed of the intimate organs of her lover). What disturbs me is how in the book the author seems to suggest that this outcome is necessary, ‘a direct consequence of the structure of the story, its internal economy’. After reading this, I lost my appetite for the cut-up strawberries, with their bursting red flesh. The book about cannibalistic practices had the effect of making me want not to eat but to write. I sat down to do just this.
First, though, I scraped all the green leafy tops from the strawberries into a plastic bag and threw it out. Is there some other use for the green leafy tops? I always wonder this. We used to throw them to the koi fish in the Japanese garden in the town where I grew up. It was part of a property that someone had willed to the city, that at some point had mysteriously become part of the field trip circuit for schools, possibly due to a serious lack of other local highlights. The garden featured a pond jammed with fat koi fishes; some were splotched red, blue and white, while others were pure gold. All had gaping mouths avid for flakes. Day in and day out they wriggled around, looking at visitors with blind eyes and twitching their long whiskers, full of a well-placed trust that sooner or later, they would be fed by a bored businessmen or stray student crossing the bridge above.
That bridge was a kitsch little thing that looked like a prop made for a film and abandoned there. Actually, it was the other way around. A few films had been shot there, but the ‘prop’ had been there first; the toylike objects hadn’t been added secondarily but had preceded Hollywood. In that Japanese garden, which might not even have been Japanese, there were many elements with stage-y qualities, more the idea of garden more than a real garden. never gave them much thought when I walked around as a kid on one of those forced elementary school trips, but now I wonder if perhaps the most genuine thing in the place were those koi fish.
It’s true that they passed their day (and still do, as far as I know) doing no more than seeking food and looking at the underside of the bridge, but what else is there, anyway? Maybe they were on to something. Through force of habit, the space between the surface of the water and the bottom of the bridge and might even have become, for them, a kind of God. Maybe this empty space in-between is the true divine — not the inhabited but the uninhabited, the potential, the form the fish saw in their surroundings as well as in their own bodies, mirrored in their gaping mouths.
If a Hollywood crew were ever to make it to Hakone gardens to shoot, though, it probably wouldn’t be interested in the mysticism of the fish. Nor would it want to puzzle out the history of the place and the lives of the family that had first lived there. None of this is Hollywood material. No, it would probably be to shoot one scene in a completely unrelated movie about a minor film star who happened to be in the area. The film star would be sitting at a table rented out for an event by the bridge, near the cherry trees. I can imagine, or remember, it’s hard to say which is which, this star from those days I was a kid. I didn’t recognize her by name; I was small and don’t really follow the world of glamour anyway. But the chatter of the star with her director comes back to me.
‘Koi fish are cannibalistic; they eat their own,’ said the director, nodding toward the pond. The star nodded, and sipped her champagne. Did I remember the koi because of the green strawberry tops that we’d feed them or because of this comment about cannibalism? I think that I am writing on and on, without reflecting —I mean without correcting, since all I am doing is reflecting— because I need to distract myself and kill the time before lunch. (‘Kill the time’, what an expression. One hour kills another and gobbles it up.)
In any case, I look forward to these lunchtimes. The hours lengthen during certain meals with their reserved conversation and ceremony, the unwrapping of the humita, the spooning out of tomatoes and peas and sauces, the conversation about food (people talk about food when they don’t quite know what else to talk about), the drumming of fingers on the table, the exchange of glances. The hours lengthen and yet goodwill is present in that lack of words, something between courtesy and custom spliced into that passage of so many years together that any story told has already been told before, perhaps halfway forgotten, perhaps not. This year the corn grew well again, and was crushed into good cakes and wrapped tightly into husks. It was the same last year, and if God is good, next year it will be this way too. For dessert, however, I will request that we do not eat strawberries.