Bach, Friends and Winter…

Accidentally binning a couple old moleskines and losing a few years worth of miscellaneous pointless notes made me realise that I really ought to commit more of these here. Nothing beats the comfort of geographically spread, redundant server mirrors and automated weekly database backups, not even, it turns out, the soft touch of overpriced paper under that mind-boggingly fancy ball-pen birthday gift.

Last friday’s concert had the delayed effect of throwing me into a Bach-obsessed mood for most of the weekend (in addition to their gorgeous take on cantata BWV 156, the cellist played the perennial Cello Suite 1st movement during a solo interlude). Unlike a lot of the noisy music I belatedly got into as a teenager, Bach and the whole pre-20th century crew have always been in the background when growing up. Bach’s music has such a connection to non-music related childhood memories that my emotional response often tends toward diffuse nostalgia rather than actual musical appreciation, particularly if I am not paying active attention. His famously humongous body of work feels designed to cover an improbable spectrum ranging from the universally accessible and uplifting down to some seriously dry stuff (parts of the less crowd-friendly cello suites — movements in #2 and #4, for example — will test the nerves of even the most adept cello lovers). Some even see mathematical beauty in there, but I have never been too sold on that one.

My compulsive listening over the weekend got me to realising how brilliantly effective those chord progressions (mostly downward) in BWV 156’s sinfonia and first aria are, in backing the morbid-yet-peaceful theme of the cantata (hint: the incipit translates to something along the line of “I stand with one foot in the grave… and the other is about to fall in”). And then it dawned on me that I had spent the best of a sunny Saturday, reading and listening to music while munching on cookies… and I went out to get drunk on cheap happoshu, for balance and good measure.

The familiar presence of Maya at home during the weekend gave me much to ponder (yes, it was a pondering weekend, by and large) about what makes cultural affinities and whether we ever completely grow past our upbringing when threading friendships. Despite having mostly lived in two radically different worlds for the past 15 years, communication was effortless and conversations felt stimulating and familiar without ever being trite or repetitive. Not sure if ours sharing the same experience growing up can explain that, or if it is merely the result of a certain formatted education… I haven’t kept in touch with enough fellow cellmates to tell with certainty, but the few I have bumped into over the years, would support the former hypothesis.

Hako never went to a european boarding school and could not be more Japanese, yet every time we manage to meet, we resume our conversation near mid-sentence as if it never stopped. Hearing her latest gossips from the world of young Tokyo geishas made me wonder whether she’d tear off my eyes for even considering writing them down (there’s precedent). I don’t think she would care. Spending the day in Asakusa with her made me think that, were I to ever live in Tokyo again, I might try for eastern shitamachi, instead of my old nakano-ku stomping grounds: it has got most of my favourite things about Shinjuku and Nakano (weird old little streets filled with dodgy bars, smaller residential areas with mum’n’pop stores…) with cheaper rents and some very improbable additions (full-size amusement park wedged between houses and temples into a space the size of a large garden, anybody?).

There was a subtle but nonetheless delightful irony in the strange choice of music, made by a very-drunk-yet-harmless Russian last Saturday at 2am, during Paul & Marcin’s house party: the opera’s infamous back story gave an interesting perspective to the standard “bunch of foreigners and Japanese partying it up in the Kyoto burb” thing… Don’t worry, I am fairly confident I was the only one to be even slightly grazed by the thought: the only other attendee who had any clue about the music and its origins, was busy trying to keep his vodka down and in no shape to talk, let alone draw nerdy parallels between opera libretti and real life.

In other news, we are barely at the beginning of November and my place is turning downright hostile to human life, except under the kotatsu… Might be time to start considering the touyuu heater option and set aside petty concerns for noxious kerosene fumes and probable cancer at 40, in favour of non-life-threatening winter temperatures…