A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 271

Tuesday, August 9

Today is my birthday. I am 74. No great celebrations here, but I did get fresh beets at the store.

Beets are really tasty but can be a pain to prepare, particularly on the stovetop. But I will cook ‘em up in our Instant Pot, where preparation only takes about 30 minutes and doesn’t heat the kitchen even more on a day when temps may hit 90 degrees.

Melissa Clark’s Dinner in an Instant cookbook has a recipe for cold sliced beets with a dressing of olive oil, yogurt, lime juice, and dill. It’s great in hot weather. 

I also got some fresh basil and will use it in pesto later in the week. If the weatherman is to be trusted—and why would you?—it should turn cooler tomorrow or Thursday.

Emily is laboring away, reading case after court case on the issue of Congressional redistricting and partisan gerrymandering. If courts have no say over the matter and everything is left up to state legislatures—as the “independent state legislature” theory and constitutional “textualists” hold—then we are certainly screwed. In many states, Republican-dominated legislatures will simply make it impossible for Democrats to ever win elections. What happened to all those smug people like George Will who once blabbed on and on about the genius of our constitutional “framers”? Democracy in the U.S. was always pretty limited, and now it seems to be withering away—even as it continues to exist in places like Japan and Europe, where the U.S.A. helped to create it in the post-World War II period.

And speaking of Japan, we have watched a series of films by the Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu. Most of the flicks that we have seen—including Tokyo Story, Late Spring, Late Autumn, Equinox Flower, and An Autumn Afternoon—focus on the evolution of the Japanese family in the years after World War II. And specifically, they concern the slow move away from arranged marriages and toward allowing young people to make their own choices. 

Filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu.

In more than one such film, there are young adults still living with their aging parents and often resisting the very idea of marriage. In Late Spring, a twenty-something daughter played by Setsuko Hara feels she should stay with her widowed father, played by Ozu regular Chishu Ryu. HE is the one pushing her to live her own life. In Tokyo Story, an aging couple travel from a remote area to visit their grownup kids in Tokyo—but the young people are too busy with jobs and work to spend much time with the parents. So, before long the old folks turn around and go home—and by the movie’s end, the mother has died and father is left all alone. But he seems to be happy enough with his lot; Ozu seems to be saying don’t worry, all will be ok.

A bit of wishful thinking there. Ozu seems to favor the end of the old ways in which patriarchal and feudal customs still ruled the day. But is Japan today characterized by the same sort of loneliness and atomization that exists in America? I know that Japan has an aging population—but is there a similar crisis around the matter of living arrangements for the very old?

In An Autumn Afternoon, a group of successful, middle-aged men spend hours scheming about a suitable marriage match for one man’s daughter. Ultimately, they arrange a marriage for her. If this is a timeworn custom, no longer appropriate under late capitalism, at least it means that, however oppressive some may have found it, a sort of caring community still existed in the immediate postwar years. 

In The Communist Manifesto, Frederich Engels and Karl Marx wrote that capitalism had “torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.” Ozu shows that this was yet a bit of an overstatement.

Dinner: black beans and rice, along with a kale and apple salad. 

Entertainment: Ozu’s 1959 remake Floating Weeds.