Sunday, 20 June 2010

3 Murakami Stories

[The three following translations I have taken again from Haruki Murakami's collection of ultra short stories, Night of the Spider Monkey. I chose these three specifically because they all contain the character of Noboru Watanabe. Of course, this is a name Murakami uses quite freely in his writing, and I don't think they are all supposed to be the same person, even if they do share a name. Murakami fans might recall that the missing cat from The Wind-up Bird Chronicles was also called Noboru Watanabe. Here, the first two stories, no doubt, do share the same character, but the third could be incidental. By the way, here's a link to another story I translated from the same collection.]

Pencil Sharpeners (or, Luck in the Form of Noboru Watanabe, No. 1)

If it were not for Noboru Watanabe, I would most probably still be using that dingy old pencil sharpener. Thanks to him, I was able to come into possession of a brand spanking new one. This kind of good luck is not such an everyday occurrence.

No sooner had he entered the room than his eyes halted on my old pencil sharpener atop the table. On that day I was doing my work in the kitchen for a change of mood; and so it was that the pencil sharpener was placed between a bottle of soy sauce and the salt.

As Noboru Watanabe repaired the drainage pipe on the sink -- he was after all in the plumbing business -- he occasionally made furtive sideways glances at the table. At the time, though, I had no way of knowing that he was an obsessive pencil sharpener collector, so wherever on earth his sharp eyes were being drawn to I hadn't the faintest idea. There was stuff scattered all over the table.

"If you don't mind me saying, that's a nifty pencil sharpener you've got there," he said after he'd finished his repairs.

"This?" I said, surprised, holding it in my hand. It was one of those regular hand-operated pencil sharpeners, and one which I'd been using for the past twenty years, since junior high. If you compared it to any other, you wouldn't notice any differences. The metallic parts were for the most part rusty, and an Astro Boy sticker was stuck on top. In other words, it was old and dirty.

"That's a 1963 Max PSD, and I can tell you, it's pretty rare," he said. "The setting of the blade on this model is a little different from other types, and so the shape of pencil shavings are subtly changed."

"You don't say?" I replied.

And so it was that I was put in possession of a brand spanking new pencil sharpener, and Noboru Watanabe took my 1963 Max PSD (with Astro Boy sticker). Apparently he always walks around with new pencil sharpeners he can trade in his bag. I know I'm repeating myself, but in my life this kind of good luck is just not such a common thing.

Time Machines (or, Luck in the Form of Noboru Watanabe, No. 2)

There was a knock.

I placed the rind of my half-eaten tangerine on the kotatsu, and when I went to the front door Noboru Watanabe (the pencil sharpener enthusiast plumber guy) was standing there.

It being already 6 o'clock in the evening, he said to me, "Good evening."

"Good evening," I replied, not really knowing what was going on. "I, um, can't remember calling for any repair work."

"Yes, that's not why I'm here. The reason I came today is to ask a small favour of you. I was wondering if in your home you might not have an old time machine, and if so, might I be able to exchange it for a newer model?"

Time machine, I said to myself, a little shocked, though I didn't let it show on my face. "Yes, I have one," I spoke without any discernible emotion. "Do you want to see it?"

"Oh, yes, if you would be so kind."

So I went with Noboru Watanabe to my four-and-a-half tatami mat sized room, and I showed him my electric kotatsu with the rind of the half-eaten tangerine still there. "Look, a time machine!" I declared. It cannot be said that I do not have a sense of humour.

But Noboru Watanabe did not laugh. He picked up the rug covering the kotatsu, and with a serious face he turned the dials, checked the temperature gauge, and tugged on each of the four table legs.

"I have to say, sir, this is a real rarity," he said with a sigh. "Unbelievable. What you've got here is a 1971 'Toasty Warm' by National. This must have given you some good times, right?"

"Yeah, I suppose," I replied without thinking. One of the legs was a little shaky, but it certainly did keep me warm.

He asked me if I would like to exchange it for a newer model, so I replied, "Sure." He went outside, and from a van parked in front of my house he brought out a new electric kotatsu (or, rather, a time machine) kept I imagine for occasions such as these, which he then carried to my room and in exchange took away my National 'Toasty Warm' (or, rather, my time machine).

"Thanks for everything," he said waving from the driver's seat. I waved back, then I returned to my room to continue eating my tangerine.


Noboru Watanabe sent me a postcard with a drawing of an octopus on it. Underneath the picture of the octopus were these words, written in his typically messy hand.

"Thank you so much the other day on the subway for taking such good care of my daughter. Let's meet up over a meal of octopus some time soon."

I was surprised when I read this. I'd just been on holiday for a short while, I hadn't ridden a train for the past two months or so, and I definitely couldn't remember taking care of Mr Watanabe's daughter. I mean, in the first place, I didn't even know he had a daughter. Perhaps he's mistaken me for somebody else.

Although eating octopus doesn't sound too bad.

I wrote Noboru Watanabe a letter. I drew a picture of a dusky thrush, and underneath that I wrote, "Thanks for the postcard. Octopus doesn't sound like a bad idea at all. Let's do it. Contact me at the end of the month."

However, after a full month had passed, I received no reply. Perhaps, as per usual, he had forgotten, I thought. Strangely, in that last month I'd had cravings for octopus, but I figured I'd eat it with Mr Watanabe, so in the end, while waiting for it I missed my chance.

It was around the time I'd forgotten both about octopus and Noboru Watanabe when I received another postcard from him. This time there was a picture of a sun fish. Beneath that, there was some writing.

"Wasn't that meal the other day delicious? It's been a long time since I've been able to eat such exemplary octopus. However, I must say, I do object a little to the views you stated that day. As the father of a daughter of marriageable age, I cannot bring myself round to your way of thinking regarding the value of sex. Let's meet up some time soon and talk about it over a pot of hot stew."

Well, well, I sighed. It seems Noboru Watanabe has mistaken me for somebody else again.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

A couple of portraits from 2006 平成18年に描いた二つの自画像

Back in England, life is good. In spite of our poor performance in the World Cup, my bowel movements have become far more regular, so I'm happy.

Looking through my old paintings, I was struck by a couple - I could hardly believe I'd done them to be honest. Has that ever happened to you? Where you've read an old essay, or, in my case, looked at a painting you did long ago, and sincerely believe that another person did it? Well, anyway, I recommend them to you as fine examples of paintings done in oil. The depth of them, the richness of colour despite the darkness, is incomparable. I maintain of course that good paintings can be done in any medium, but it's like the difference between LPs and CDs, or analog and digital; one approximates the other, and in many cases is a poor substitute.

Self portrait of old G Dawg. Size, 20x30 inches.

"Faceless Portrait". Size, 24x30 inches.