Books: 88 posts

Books and reading lists

Boris Pasternak : Let’s drop words as gardens drop orange-peel and amber

The garden stood still and fragile, ready to drop golden leaves at the gentlest breeze. I woke up early and as I stepped out of the house, I didn’t anticipate the ethereal beauty of autumn. I too stood still, my hand outstretched to pick a red apple forgotten on a bare branch. Fall cast its spell on me, and I didn’t want to shake it off.

The last time I was in Ukraine in autumn was in 1993, but I don’t recall visiting Poltava, the place where my grandmother Valentina lives, at that time. When I still lived in Ukraine, I would usually be in school. Once I was already abroad, I would return only in spring or summer. This spontaneous visit happened because of a series of events out of my control, but as I stood in the orchard filled with golden light, I realized what a gift fate has given me. To experience perfect beauty when one least expects it is after all one of the greatest blessings in life.

Such moments aren’t grand. As Boris Pasternak (1890 – 1960) writes in one of his most moving poems, “life, like an autumn stillness, is all detail.” Noticing these details and capturing them is essential. When people ask me why I find the sense of smell so fascinating, I respond simply–it allows me to pay attention to details. If you notice the scent of fallen leaves, you will also notice the delicate etching of their veins, the lemon yellow hue, the silvery mist that turns the landscape into an impressionist painting, the sound your steps make in a quiet orchard. Your ability to slow down and pay attention to such things is the essence of enjoying life, of living it fully, of savoring every moment, whatever the circumstances.

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The Color of Love

“Even before the two worlds took shape, there was the color of love.” The 14th poet from Shiraz, Hafez, embodies for most the most beautiful and poignant of what the poetic Sufi tradition has produced. This mystical branch of Islam encourages the experience of the divine through one’s personal quest, and it fits with my idea of spirituality. According to the Sufi worldview, the divine is in the details. In every leaf. In every jasmine petal. In every exhalation of a rose. In oneself. The search for it gives meaning to all that one does. And art in all of its manifestations is the way to connect to something greater than oneself, to bridge the two worlds, the inner world of spirit and the outer world of the material.

What is the place of love then? For Hafez, who stays true to the Sufi tradition in his writing, it’s the most important state that can be. Without love, it’s impossible to understand the divine. Which is why in his famous poem he says that even before the idea for the world existed, there was love. Love intoxicates. Love breaks all barriers. Love enlivens. Love takes one out of oneself. Love transcends all. Love makes you feel alive.

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Perfumes for Reading The Pillow Book

“Things that make your heart beat fast: to wash your hair, apply your make-up and put on clothes that are well scented with incense. Even if you’re somewhere where no one special will see you, you still feel a heady sense of pleasure inside.” The woman who wrote these lines was a 10th-century Japanese lady-in-waiting in the Heian court. We only know her title, Sei Shōnagon, not her real name, but The Pillow Book ensured her fame. In my recent FT magazine article, Three Perfumes for Sei Shonagon, I select three fragrance to accompany the Japanese literary masterpiece.

“For a fragrance that evokes Sei Shōnagon’s description of the royal palace – the carved screens, incense smoke and rustle of silks – I turn to Arquiste’s Nanban. It’s dark and plush, with velvety layers of myrrh, sandalwood and leather, but the infusion of osmanthus, a blossom that smells of apricots and tea, gives a candlelit glow to the composition. To continue reading, please click here.”

Have you read The Pillow Book? Do you ever select scents that match the mood of your favorite books?

How I Learn Languages 3 : How to Pick a Tutor on Italki

When I shared my tips on learning languages, I received many letters and comments from you with your own experiences, and above all, with questions. I apologize if I wasn’t able to answer every letter or with as much detail as I would have liked, and so I’ve decided to separate all of the questions into  categories and address them in a series of posts. One topic in particular was finding a tutor on Italki, a website that I use to learn languages. Italki is a platform that offers a chance for students to find tutors, conversation partners, and help with grammar or word usage in dozens of different languages. It works on a referral system, so if you want to join and get an automatic $10 discount on your lesson, be sure to get referred by another user (they will also get a referral credit). My Italki profile is here.

Italki has grown tremendously over the years, and today it has so many options that newcomers may feel overwhelmed. Should you choose a professional teacher or a tutor? How do you know that the tutor is trustworthy? How do you plan your study? Finally, how do you select the ideal tutor for you among hundreds of profiles? OK, you won’t have that problem if you want to learn a less common language like Uzbek, since there is only one Uzbek tutor on Italki, but let’s assume that you want to learn Japanese and there are around 400 people offering their language teaching services. Where to start?

I’ve written this article using the example of Italki, since that’s what I rely on, but these tips can be applied to other other language tutoring service.

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Wind Through Green Leaves Aoarashi

Imagine right now standing under a tree and hearing the wind rustling through its leaves. If you enjoy this vision, I would like to share a Japanese poem with you.

Wind blowing through green leaves
I see a shrine
And I pray

青嵐神社があったので拝む
Aoarashi Jinja ga atta node Ogamu

Japanese haiku are full of seasonal words, which serve as a guide to the reader. For instance, this charming poem by Ikeda Sumiko (池田澄子, born in 1936) contains the word aoarashi.  It means wind blowing through green leaves and it’s a seasonal word for the fifth month.

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