Searching for Exoplanets with Christopher Columbus

by Leanne Ogasawara Imagine finding out that intelligent life had been discovered in our galaxy. To learn that across the endless ocean of intergalactic space there exists a planet filled with new forms of life –and riches unimagined: this was how it must have felt for the people of the Renaissance, when Christopher Columbus discovered…

The Time of White Dew (白露): 

by Leanne Ogasawara Photographs by Tracey Parmley Nuki 1. Back from three weeks on the road, I immediately consult my Japanese almanac. To my delight, I see we are now in the Time of White Dew (白露): Falling just prior to the Autumnal Equinox, the sun is said to have passed the 165th solar degree…

Gender-Bending Rock Stars: Counter-Tenors, Castrati and the Wild and Crazy Baroque

by Leanne Ogasawara One God, One Farinelli… Stepping onto the stage, the singer draws in a long breath as he gazes out across the audience. For a moment, he is blinded by the light of innumerable candles. So lavishly lit, it is a miracle that the theater didn’t burn down more than it did over…

Travels with the Pasha (On Memorial Day in America)

by Leanne Ogasawara 1. The year was 1683. And the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire, Kara Mustafa Pasha, was leading one of the most organized war machines the world had ever seen, westward– toward Vienna. We know that his campaign would end in failure. The Pasha himself held ultimately responsible, he would be made to suffer the…

Do Octopuses Have Souls? (On the Nature of Animal Consciousness)

by Leanne Ogasawara Anyone who has ever found themselves caught in a staring contest with an octopus –those soulful cat-eyes returning your gaze through the thick glass of an aquarium tank– can attest to the uncanny power these creatures exert over our human imagination. They certainly look alien. With three hearts pumping blue, copper-infused blood,…

Translating Descartes

by Leanne Ogasawara 1. The philosopher and the translator It was probably the most interesting translation job I ever had. Hired directly by the philosopher himself, my task was to translate into English a series of talks and papers he would be delivering in the US and Europe in the coming year. Philosophy being what…

A Symphony of Vanishing Sounds (The Insect Apocalypse)

by Leanne Ogasawara I’d been living in Tokyo about ten years, when a friend’s father decided to perform a little experiment on me. Arriving one cool autumn evening at their home in suburban Mejirodai, he waved my friend away, telling her: “I want to have a little chat with Leanne.” Sitting down on the sofa…

On the Trail of Leonardo– Confusion, Collusion, and Connoisseurship

by Leanne Ogasawara It was mid-summer 2011 when the news broke that a long-lost Leonardo da Vinci painting had been found. Apparently, a New York City art dealer noticed the picture at an estate sale in Louisiana and purchased it for around $10,000. This occurred back in 2005, and the following six years were spent…

Report from Salzburg

by Leanne Ogasawara “Someday, I’d like to visit Salzburg when the Summer Festival’s not going on. That way, I can see if the place is real; for I just can’t help wondering if Salzburg is not some kind of enchanted fairy world, which only comes into being when the music is playing…” “Nonsense” said our…

Being Alone with Las Meninas (Forgetting Michel Foucault)

by Leanne Ogasawara We should first count our blessings that Dan Brown has never written about the painting. Though I suspect such a seemingly matter-of-fact picture as Velázquez’s Las Meninas would not serve as an easy target. With no hint of the occult –nor even a whiff of the Templars– it probably wouldn’t capture his attention. And…