A Fine Day for Kangarooing
The Year of Spaghetti
The Year of Spaghetti
By MURAKAMI Haruki
Translated by Kiki
1971—that was the year of spaghetti. In 1971 I cooked spaghetti in
order to live, and I lived in order to cook spaghetti. I was proud
of the billows of steam rising from the aluminum pot as well as the
gurgling of the tomato sauce as it simmered—they were my raison
From a supermarket specializing in imported food, I bought a pot big
enough for a German shepherd to take a bath in, an egg timer, and
some seasonings and spices with strange names. I bought a cookbook
that specializes in spaghetti as well as a dozen tomatoes. Garlic,
leeks, salad oil---all of these aromas joined together and leapt
through the air of my tiny one-room apartment, absorbed into its
every nook and cranny. It smelled like an ancient Roman sewer.
Something special happened in the era of spaghetti in the year 1971.
Generally I boiled spaghetti by myself, and I ate it by myself. I
didn’t really need any company. I liked eating alone. I felt that
spaghetti should be eaten alone. I can’t really explain.
I always ate my spaghetti with a salad and black tea: three scoops
of tea leaves in a pot and a tossed lettuce and cucumber salad. Then
I leisurely read the newspaper, enjoying my spaghetti by myself.
From Sunday to Saturday, everyday I ate spaghetti. When Saturday is
finished, the cycle of spaghetti begins again.
I usually ate my spaghetti alone, but sometimes I am struck by the
feeling that somebody might knock on my door and enter my apartment.
This sensation is especially strong on rainy days. It is different
from inviting somebody to my apartment. Sometimes I sense an
acquaintance, sometimes a stranger. It might be a girl with really
thin legs from high school that I had one date with. Other times it
is a younger version of myself, while sometimes it is William Holden
with Jennifer Jones on his arm. William Holden?
However, nobody actually ever comes to my apartment. They are all
lurking in front of my door, but nobody ever knocks.
Outside it is raining.
I cooked spaghetti all through the spring, summer and into the fall
like a person bent on revenge, like a jilted lover burning a bundle
of old love letters. She tosses them one by one into the flames of
the fireplace; I slide bundles of spaghetti into the boiling water.
I put the trampled shadow into the bowl and then I mold it into the
shape of a German shepherd. Then I drop it into the boiling water
and I add some salt. I’m standing in front of the aluminum pot, a
pair of long chopsticks in my hand, waiting for the mournful ‘ping’
of the egg timer. My bundles of spaghetti are sly and cunning—that’s
why I can’t take my eyes off of them. At the moment they are sliding
down the edge of the pot, disappearing into the inky darkness of
night. Like a brightly colored butterfly being swallowed up by the
eternity of the tropical jungle. Evening is calmly waiting for the
arrival of the bundles of spaghetti.
spaghetti and garlic
spaghetti with clam and tomato sauce
spaghetti and beef tongue.
Sometimes from the refrigerator I randomly grabbed leftovers to make
spaghetti that tragically never receives a name. Nameless. The
bundles of spaghetti being born in the steam in the year 1971,
flowing like a river to the sea until it disappears. I mourned for
them. All of my bundles of spaghetti in the year of 1971.
When the phone rings at 3:20, I am lying on my tatami mat and gazing
at the ceiling. I am lying in the middle of a pool of warm winter
sunlight, perfect for such mindless times. Like a dead fly in the
sunlight of December 1971.
At first I don’t recognize the sound of the ringing of the phone as
the sound of the ringing of the phone. I am just spacing out. The
ring is like some unrecognizable fragment of memory. As the sound
piles up, gradually in my mind it takes the shape of a phone ring.
Finally, the air of my apartment hums with the vibration of the
ringing of a phone: 100%, absolutely, without a doubt the ringing of
the phone. Still lying down and half asleep, I reach out and pick up
The caller is a woman I can barely remember and who has never made
much of an impression on me. She is so slight that she evaporates
every day by 4:30. The former girlfriend of an acquaintance of mine.
But I hardly knew him. If we met somewhere we did little more than
exchange greetings. The same strange reason that brought them
together a few years ago also broke them up a couple months back.
“Why don’t you tell me where he is?” she asks.
I look at the receiver, following it with my eyes. The cord is
firmly connected to the receiver. Not bored so much as just
verifying the connection.
“Why are you asking me?”
“Because nobody else will tell me,” she answers, her voice cold.
“Where is he?”
“I have no idea,” I tell her. Even though I answer her I can’t hear
my own voice. It doesn’t sound like my own voice.
She doesn’t say anything. She remains quiet.
The receiver becomes a pillar of ice. Everything around me seems to
change to ice. It is like being in a J.G. Ballard science fiction
“I really don’t know where he is,” I tell her. “He just disappeared
without saying a word.”
On the other end of the line she laughs. “I don’t think he’s smart
enough to simply disappear.”
It is just like she says. I can’t agree with her more. He really
isn’t that smart. But that’s not the reason I don’t reveal his
whereabouts to her. If he learns that I told her, then he’ll
probably call me. I will get embroiled in their lives again. I was
still fed up from my involvement in their past. In a deep hole in my
backyard I had already buried the whole incident and my memory of
it. I didn’t want to dig it up again. Nobody could dig it up again.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“Don’t you like me?” she blurts. I don’t know how to answer that
question. I actually don’t have much of an impression of her.
“I’m sorry,” I repeat. “At the moment I’m making spaghetti.”
“What was that?”
“I’m making spaghetti.” I put some imaginary water into a pot and
light the stove with an imaginary match.
“So?” she says.
I put some imaginary spaghetti into the boiling water, it slides
down and I add some imaginary salt. I set the imaginary egg timer
for fifteen minutes.
“I can’t take my eyes off of it right now. If I do, the spaghetti
She doesn’t say anything.
“I’m at the tricky part of the cooking.” In my hand the temperature
of the receiver continues to drop.
“So, could you call me back later?” I add hurriedly.
“You’re in the middle of making spaghetti, huh?” she says.
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“Are you eating by yourself?”
She sighs. “I really do have a problem.”
“I’m really sorry that I can’t help you.”
“It’s about money, you know.”
“I want him to return it.”
She forces a weak laugh through the phone cord. “See you later.”
“Goodbye,” I say.
After hanging up, I notice that the pool of sunlight on the floor
had moved a few centimeters. I return to my spot on the floor in the
middle of the sunlight. I look up at the ceiling.
It is sad to consider all of those imaginary bundles of spaghetti
that will never be cooked. Maybe I should have told her, I regret
that now. At any rate he wasn’t such an important person. A mediocre
abstract painter who put on airs, a man who did nothing but talk
big. She probably really did need that money back. I wonder what she
is doing these days? I suppose at 4:30 in the afternoon her shadow
has already vanished.
That’s a kind of golden wheat grown on the plains of Italy. How
would the Italians have reacted if they had known that they were
exporting loneliness instead of spaghetti in the year of spaghetti
1971? I bet they would have been astonished.