Monday, August 17, 2009

Mene mene tekel u-farsin

It feels as if the mysterious hand has written everywhere: on the remote controls of the TV and AC, on my cellphone, on the microwave oven, on the switches of my hotel suite, on my iron...

Tiny, elegant signs at times intriguing, at times, like at King Belshazzar's banquet, terrifying.

It doesn't really help that here and there I'm able to identify a kanji or a kanji-radical. Twenty-five years ago, when I was majoring in Japanese Literature at the University of Rome I knew almost 600 kanji, today I recall less than 100. I actively knew more than 2000 words, most of which are buried under layers of rust.

Since I'm in Japan I've caught myself laughing hysterically in the most diverse and unexpected situations: looking at a string of kanji and feeling absolutely helpless and clueless, or staring at clerks who have flooded me with endless sequences of sounds where I could identify only the final sound ka, the question mark.

Without the slightest idea about the life unfolding around me.

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