Just last week, during prayers at bedtime, my youngest son thanked God that piano lessons were over for the summer. I’m not sure when it became law for upright pianos to be stationed in every household, to break the backs of the fathers who move them there and to break the minds of children who, coming home daily from school, find not freedom but piano lessons, but it’s a law I resent even as I continue to abide by it. In one corner we, too, have a breaking-down piano like a hulking mushroom.
James Tissot, 19th century
The simple answer to the question is: I’ve read enough great books to just know. But this isn’t about that answer. It’s too simple anyway—and carelessly arrogant—however satisfactory it is. Instead this is about the question I found myself contemplating after reading the opening salvo of Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet and knowing this would be the best book I’ve ever read.
The whole restless mob of us spread on blankets in the dreamy briny sunshine skylarking and chiacking about for one day, one clear, clean sweet day in a good world in the midst of our living.
Rilke in Moscow by Leonid Pasternak
Sometimes, when I’m burnt out, I look to Rilke. Not his Letters to a Young Poet, or his masterpiece, Duino Elegies, but to his very first collection, Wegwarten. It was self-published, and he handed it out on street corners. One version of the story even claims he did this while “dressed in the black habit of an abbé with long curly hair.”
Over the holidays, my mom popped in our battered VHS tape of The Music Man. This was my favorite movie as a kid. Somehow I never grew tired of watching Professor Harold Hill dupe the citizens of River City, Iowa.
Underneath my mother-in-law’s table sits a bucket with a lid. In it, fish sauce—made from four ingredients: fish, salt, water, time—rots its way beyond rot to the salty-savory goodness. It’s fermenting, condensing into a flavor so intense that it will almost level you, like strong drink.