Family and Friends

Jasper Lake (or After The Formlessness, Who Gave Things Shape?)

My mother was the first of her generation to be born in America. Her father and mother escaped Russian pogroms when they were children. She was born under Sagittarius, in Brookline, Massachusetts. She didn’t know (or care) she was white and Jewish until her parents and friends learned of her Kenyan fiancé, and her mother staged an intervention. When she stepped off the plane in Nairobi in 1964, surrounded by black people, she stood dizzily in the hot haze. The runway tarmac trembled like a woman’s belly. Located in the heart of Africa, Kenya is shaped like a skull, from Mombasa in the East to Kisumu in the west, from Turkana in the North to Nairobi in the south. Nairobi is the mouth. Kisumu and Mombasa form the ears, and the eye sockets are lost in the northern deserts.

瑶池阿母绮窗开,  yáo chí ā mǔ qǐ chuāng kāi
黄竹歌声动地哀。  huáng zhú gē shēng dòng dì āi
八骏日行三万里,  bā jùn rì xíng sān wàn lǐ
穆王何事不重来。  mù wáng hé shì bù chóng lái

The Queen of Jasper Lake pulls back the damask curtains,
As the sad yellow bamboo melody shakes the earth.
Her lover’s eight great stallions travel thirty thousand miles daily,
Just how could King Mu not come back?

Musical Interlude: Chopin Ballade No.4 Op 52 (Pianist – Mark Obama Ndesandjo)

What can one write about this piece, if not the world itself? In about eleven minutes Chopin covers the entire gamut of a life’s emotions: joy, love, pain, hate, glory… And yet, how many pianists treat it as a clinical study,  with marimba sounding chords and melodies whose souls have been scrubbed clean – it is time to revive the romanticism of Cortot and his contemporaries! A late masterpiece of the romantic repertoire, the fourth ballade is perhaps the one work of Chopin I love the most.

[1] King Mu was a Zhou dynasty emperor notorious for his search for the elixir of immortality. According to legend he met the celestial Queen Mother of the West who resides at Jasper Lake.

2 thoughts on “Jasper Lake (or After The Formlessness, Who Gave Things Shape?)

    1. The earliest reference to the legend, in a diary form inscribed on bamboo tablets, dates from about 300 BC and describes how King Mu traveled through distant lands to Kunlun, the mythical land of the immortals. There, he met the Queen of the West and presumably ate the peaches of immortality before returning to China to govern his kingdom. Chinese history often mixes history with fable, and the actual King Mu lived around 976-922 BCE or 956-918 BCE. He also did a great deal of traveling, subjugating many tribes and expanding the borders of the Zhou Dynasty. Since he died and was succeeded by his son, the peaches clearly didn’t do much good, although he is said to have lived to the age of 105. The goddess Xi Wang Mu, Queen Mother of the West, was first depicted as a man-eater, with a leopard’s tail and tiger’s jaws. Later illustrations depict a stately Chinese lady. She often exchanged visits with Emperors and when she came from the West (often associated with the Gobi Desert) she brought precious gifts like white jade. She is said to have maintained a forest of peach trees and would regularly invite the immortals to renew their youth with a banquet (when the peaches ripened). The Monkey King, according to the famous novel, once broke in and stole all the peaches. Chinese emperors often experimented with so-called elixirs of immortality that were prepared by their Daoist priests, and often ended up poisoning themselves and an early death. I haven’t found an English translation of the text but a basic overview is at and,_Son_of_Heaven.


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