Five Things to Sing About

It’s easy to get caught up in the panicky bad news cycle, scrolling blindly on Twitter to see if London Book Fair is still on, what the latest spread of the virus is, speak to the phone with worried elderly parents (and be secretly relieved that they’ve decided to cancel their trip to the UK next week, as they would fall into the vulnerable categories), try and plan summer holidays for the boys with an ex who tries to sabotage you every step of the way. More than ever, we need to remind ourselves of all that is good and lovely or even just OK in our lives. So here are five things which gave me joy this last week or so.

This kimono looks like something out of Genji Monogatari

Anne Enright in conversation with Andrew O’Hagan about her new book Actress (which has just been longlisted for the Women’s Prize)

I’ve only read a few books by Anne Enright, and haven’t read this one yet (but am eager to, it sounds exactly my sort of thing – tricky mother/daughter relationship, the dangers of celebrity culture, theatre world etc.) The author in person was very funny, very opinionated, not at all shy and does not suffer fools gladly. I think quite a few people would describe her as spiky and remorseless and are slightly afraid of her. At which she rather brilliantly replied: ‘Why are writers described as ruthless? We just sit (and observe) and write.’ Another thing she said also struck me: that England is currently going through that nationalist rhetoric and identity trumpeting that Ireland went through in the past century… and we all know what that led to.

The perfect kimono for a crime writer, translator and publisher

Watching and debating films with my boys (OK, mainly the older boy who is getting very ambitious about his viewing of classic films, but the younger one occasionally participates too) – this weekend it was La Haine (which the older one is studying for A Level French) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (which instantly made his top 10 list). The frightening thing about La Haine (made in 1995) is how little things have changed for the banlieue and its inhabitants since then, although the French PM at the time made his entire cabinet watch it. I’d love to see Johnson getting his cabinet to watch a Ken Loach film!

A kimono combining two of my greatest loves: the silk manufacturers of Lyon produced the material, which was given as a present by the French ambassador to a local daimyo after the opening of Japan in the Meiji era.

Analysing The Great Gatsby with my older son while working out at the gym. He borrowed it from my bookcase on Friday afternoon, had read it by Saturday evening and, knowing that it’s one of my favourite novels of all time, was keen to discuss it with me while we were puffing away side-by-side on our cross trainers. I have to admit that this comes pretty close to how I thought parenthood might look like ideally before I had children! (It has seldom lived up to that level of expectation.)

Not to neglect the younger son, who also suprised me very pleasantly. Just as I was moaning about him not doing enough reading and that I wish he would read anything, comics, non-fiction, I’m not fussy, as long as he reads rather than just plays computer games all the time etc. etc., the doorbell rang and it was a delivery for him from Amazon (well, we’ll work on the buying from independent bookshops angle later) of a trilogy of books Bakemonogatari (Tales of Monsters) by Japanese author Nisioisin. He’s been busy devouring these ever since and I am tempted to read them myself.

Wedding kimonos – the white at the start of the ceremony, the red outer kimono at the end.

The Kimono Exhibition at the Victoria and Albert – there are no words to describe how happy this made me! I studied Japanese, taught Japanese anthropology, cultural history and literature for a while and have spent several (sadly, far too short) periods in Japan at summer schools etc. I always meant to buy a kimono but could never afford a proper one. I could have spent hours analysing every single pattern, weave, material, detail. I photographed nearly every single one of them and two thirds of the pictures are utter rubbish, but I’ve used some of them, no matter how rubbish, to illustrate this blog post.

My kind of kimono: I rather like monochromes and this has the elegance and modern look I would wear regularly.

Finishing the translation of Sword – I still have to get a third-party edit and proofreading sorted, but I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out. This is going to be such an exciting political thriller, unlike any other the English-speaking world has seen so far!

15 thoughts on “Five Things to Sing About”

  1. It sounds like you’ve had some lovely things to try and drown out the not so lovely. Those kimonos are beautiful. I hope the exhibit is still on the next time I’m in London.

    1. It’s only just opened and is on until 21st JUne. A friend of mine is a V&A member and kindly took me along, but I think I have to go and see it again, so let me know if and when you are planning to come to London and perhaps we can go together. If you don’t mind me going on and on about it…

  2. I too am a great fan of kimonos, of the fabric more than the style. Lucky you to see such an exhibition. Not readily available in South Africa.

  3. Oh, those kimonos are breathtaking, Marina Sofia! Thanks for sharing them. And I do love that feeling of seeing (grand)children interested in reading. Talking about books and films with them is such a great experience, isn’t it? I’m glad you’ve had those uplifting things happen, even in the midst of everything else going on.

    1. It is a lovely surprise to see my children are getting interested in things I like. Although I did my best to nurture these things in them, you can never take it for granted… and it comes (and goes) in waves and phases.

  4. Lovely photos and selection of kimonos from the exhibition at the V&A. Only wish I wasn’t halfway across the world from it. A very nice hook there for Sword, can’t wait to hear more about it!

  5. I’m so looking forward to going to the Kimono exhibition. I’m glad you found an escape from all those worries, Marina, and how lovely to talk films and books with your sons.

  6. We certainly need things to keep our spirits up at the moment, so well done! It’s wonderful when you can bond with your children over books (doesn’t happen often enough to me). And the kimono exhibition looks quite lovely!

  7. Beautiful kimonos! I’ve always thought of them as an art form. It must take many hours to have made the hand-sewn kimonos. You have selected some amazing designs and fabrics. So glad your sons are reading and talking about them to you. Nothing like engendering the love of reading with children. They will learn that one is never alone when one has a good book, and that books can transport a person out of bad moods and difficult situations. Hope everyone keeps down the traveling now.

  8. What a lovely image of you and your son deep in conversation about a book while puffing away. Thats a lot more intellectual than what passes for conversation in the gym I go to.

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