Two brothers sit on a grassy patch below an elevated walkway.
Roasted butternut semolina cakes
Behind each of them, in the far distance, stretches a long bridge that seems to connect the boys to the real, busy world. But they don’t care about that. The boys are in their stocking feet, comfortably eating rice with their fingers, and drinking tea out of the tea kettle lid or their cupped hand. “Messy, isn’t it?” “Yes! Fun, isn’t it!” Minoru and Isamu have run away from home with their teakettle and rice cooker, because their parents won’t buy them a television set. They’ve decided not to speak to anyone until their demands are met. This is, of course, Yasujiro Ozu’s tenderly beautiful film Good Morning. The film tells the story of a small suburban community and the havoc cast upon it by gossip, suspicion, and two small boys on a silence strike. The film was shot in 1959, and it reminded me of Tati’s films of the same period – full of grace, generosity and gentle humor. It’s about ordinary people going about ordinary lives, but it’s completely captivating. The boys decide to stop speaking because grownups talk so much and say nothing worth hearing…it’s all just a lot of meaningless talk.
“Good morning, good evening, a fine day, where to? Just a ways, I see, I see.” The brothers can talk to each other, if they show the right sign. And they have a shared language of gestures and expressions that are full of meaning, and beautiful to see. Of course their gestures don’t always translate to the rest of the world, and when the little one, Isamu, tries to ask permission to speak in class, nobody knows what he means. The adults in the film, including the boys’ aunt and their English tutor, are amused by the boys’ assessment of grown-up conversation, but they recognize that there’s some truth in it.The film is full of misunderstandings and half-spoken thoughts and desires. The gossip that travels from small house to small house is a perfect example of meaningless words gone awry and striking out with their own destructive pattern. And yet, the real joy of the film is the moments of understanding between people, and in those moments when we recognize ourselves in the characters, our lives in their lives. They speak Japanese and a bit of English (“I love you!”
). They talk in niceties and don’t say what they mean. But we know
what they mean, whatever language they speak. Ozu is famous for defying Hollywood’s rules for creating melodrama in a film, not just by his quiet use of still, low-angled shots, but also because he utilized narrative ellipses. He doesn’t show the big events, he shows the spaces between them. In famous “pillow shots,” he gives us beautiful small poems of transition, static, but full of quiet, gentle motion within the frame. In the same way, we understand that what’s important in communication isn’t the words, but the spaces between them, and the meaning that they convey through gesture and expression and a universal understanding of human nature. In the last scene, the boys’ aunt and their English tutor stand at a train station talking foolishly about the shape of a cloud (“Yes, it does look like something…”) But from their barely contained smiles, we know that they know they’re saying so much more to each other. Throughout the film, there’s a running series of fart jokes. The boys eat pumice so that they’ll be able to produce a fart on demand when they push each other on the forehead. One of the housewives repeatedly mistakes her husband’s fart for language. During a callisthenic session, two boys admire the flatulent prowess of an older man, and say he has a lot of practice because he works for the gas company. The boys decide that farting is okay, as a form of communication, and doesn’t constitute a breach of their silence strike. This is more than a spate of fart gags, this is a nod to the things that connect us all…our humor and our humanity.
Grating and roasting butternut squash is my new favorite culinary technique! I use my food processor, which makes it super easy and fast. You might find you have a huge mound of grated squash, but it cooks down. I had mine piled about 2 inches deep on the baking tray to start, but it cooked down to about one cup in the end. Just keep stirring the outside pieces, which brown first, into the center of the tray. I added my grated butternut squash to a batter that was very similar to that for semolina dumplings or Roman gnocchi, which have quite a comforting consistency. I flavored it with sage, rosemary, smoked paprika, and a bit of cinnamon and cayenne. Delicious! To go with these big cakes, I made a puree of cauliflower and pumpkinseeds, with a little roasted garlic and spinach thrown in. It was creamy and smooth with a mild nutty flavor, and was very pretty with the butternut cakes.
Here’s Memphis Minnie with Good Morning.
1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and grated (the processor works well for this!)
2 T olive oil
1 t sage 1 t rosemary
1 1/2 cups milk
1 t smoked paprika
1/2 t salt
3/4 cup semolina
4 T butter
1/2 cup smoked gouda
1/4 cup sharp cheddar
plenty of freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 425. Combine the grated butternut squash, olive oil, rosemary and sage. Spread in an even layer on a large baking sheet. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes. As you roast it, rearrange the squash every once in a while, because the pieces on the edges will get browned first, and you want to mix those into the middle, and give other pieces a chance to brown. When the squash is flecked with brown and seems soft all the way through, it’s done. Set aside in a big bowl.
Reduce oven temperature to 400.
In a medium-sized saucepan, warm the milk. Add the spices and salt. When the milk has bubbles on the edges, whisk in the semolina. Keep whisking as it thickens, which should only take a minute or two. Remove it from the heat and let it cool slightly – for five minutes maybe. Stir in the butter and the cheeses, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Season well with pepper. Lightly butter a baking sheet. Drop the batter by thick globs onto the sheet. Should make six cakes altogether.
Bake for about 35 – 40 minutes, till the cakes are puffed and browned on top.
CAULIFLOWER AND PUMPKINSEED PUREE
1 cup pumpkinseeds, lightly toasted in a dry pan for about five minutes
1 1/2 cup cauliflower, florettes only, boiled until soft (15 – 20 minutes)
1 plump clove of garlic, roasted or toasted
2 T olive oil
1/2 t sage
1 T honey
1 cup spinach
1/2 cup milk
juice of half a lime
salt and plenty of pepper
Combine everything in a food processor and process till smooth. Add a bit more milk if it’s too thick.
Ooh, I’d add a generous pinch of smoked pumice to that ! (Sorry).
An amateur psychologist writes: I believe that fart gags are our very very first jokes. When babies first smile, I’ve heard people say that they’re not smiling, it’s just wind. Do people say that where you are ? Anyway, of course it’s both. The sense of pleasure and relief of getting those painful air bubbles out of their tiny digestive systems never goes away, nor the delight at the realisation that it was oneself who made that brilliant noise !
They do say it here! But they call it gas, not wind.
I heard Louis CK explain the funniness of a fart joke on the Daily Show, and he said, “You don’t have to be smart to laugh at farts, but you’d have to be stupid not to.”
Don’t tell my boys I said that! They get a bit carried away sometimes.
I won’t tell your children if you don’t tell mine…