Thursday, January 27, 2005

Left Behind

I think that the young science teacher for whom I subbed today will find somewhere in the stack of classwork and notes I left her a paper on which I wrote something like:

I have observed that students are more likely to do their work quietly if I sit at the front of the room writing ("Is it a note to our teacher?") than if I sit there with a good book.

And on that strategy, along with my usual one of demanding silence -- yet actually letting some muttering go unnoticed -- we got through the day. I didn't mean to leave the paper, of course; the absent teacher had the 4th block off and I was ready to leave. I hope nothing more incriminating (kids names I didn't really need to Report to her for behavior problems; curses about how messy her desk was).

The book I refrained from reading today was Donna Tartt's The Secret History. (Note to self, when CNB recommends a book, read it right away.) Though I feel like Tartt made fall and spring in New England too warm, and that she used a few random words ("hoarse" comes to mind) too often, I find it well-written and compelling. It reminds me of The Virgin Suicides (Eugenides).

As for Spirited Away: wow. It swept me away, dazzled me. I watched it twice on Tuesday, the day I borrowed it from Maggi. The painterly backdrops took my breath away. The villain Yubaba lives in exquisite rooms at the top of a bath house. The light, the radish spirit (so creepy! yet, apparently benign!) the train journey (as an article in the NYer points out; that's what started this), and even Chihiro's car trip at the beginning just knocked my socks off. I expected a bigger cultural chasm than I felt. I imagine that certain characters or their forms would speak to me on a deeper level if I had an understanding of Japanese myth and iconography, but I never felt befuddled. Actually, I did for a moment, but Chihrio says of the funny, snakey squiggle in the sky, "Haku's a dragon." Miyazaki's dragon has a feline (or canine per the New Yorker piece) head and long snake-like, though maybe fur-covered, body. Maybe all Japanese dragons look like that? Would you all agree that in the west dragons appear more reptilian, and often seem chunky, like a Brontosaurus?

Searching for pictures makes this a cruddy bit of prose -- and reminds me of bits I forgot: Yubaba's weird head henchmen (they remind me of the head of Jebadiah Springfield in an old video game); her sister's enchanted lantern that meats Chihiro and her friends at the train; and the scene where Chihiro runs along the drainpipe, smashing together Charles Sheeler, classic American cartoon antics, and an Eastern asymmetry.


Anonymous said...

In case you're actually curious, Asian dragons come in many different varieties. I fear I don't have a website for you, but I'll bet there's one (or more) out there. They tend to be scaly, but with fur (or maybe spines, a la porcupines) as well, where the Western view is most often strictly reptilian: bare-scales, either smooth like a snake or armored like a snapping turtle.

There's a lot of stuff out there if you're interested.

Lisa said...

P, That's about all I need to know about dragons, for the moment, thanks. Thanks, too, for loaning the excellent record!

CNB said...

I've now turned two people on to Donna Tartt! However I've heard that her other books aren't quite as intriguing. Why is it that authors seem to get everything out of their system on their first novel and the second is only a pale imitation of the first? Any comments?