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Lyrical Associations

Savoring the Hot Taste of Life

Cono views the crowd at the Istanbul airport and marvels at the somberness on all the faces he sees, with no hint of vitality or wonder - no savoring of the hot taste of life...

The phrase "savoring of the hot taste of life" derives from E. Powys Mathers' English free-verse translation of the 11-century poem The Chaurapanchasika by Kashmiri poet Bilhana Kavi, titled Black Marigolds in English. A version can be found here (enjoy):

Pull the Oars Together

"Let us pull the oars together" and other lines sung by Cono during his torture are inspired in part by Qiao Yu's Chinese lyrics for the 1955 song Let Us Sway Twin Oars, which appeared in a well-known propaganda film of the same era:

The Three Scream Meal

When Xiao Li phones Cono in duress, she calls herself the baby mouse in the three scream meal.  "Baby mouse screams when the chopsticks pick her up. I have one more scream before ..." Known in Mandarin as san zhi er (three squeaks) or san jiao shu (three cry mouse), the dish entails a live newborn hairless baby mouse (or rat), which screams first when it is picked up by the chopsticks, then when it is dipped in a sauce, and finally when it is eaten. Very uncommon in China today, the dish's history is uncertain. One version holds that it appeared in the hardship years of the latter Qing dynasty (which ended in 1911); then made a comeback after 1949 when hungry soldiers posted to islands in the South China Sea had few food options and took to eating the abundant rodents, either cooked or, in three-scream fashion, alive. Upon return to Guangdong province on the mainland, some soldiers started restaurants and placed the dish on the menu.

China is not the only country with mice on the menu. In Malawi, for example, roasted mice are a delicacy, and live newborns are sometimes eaten from a skewer. There, too, the morsels are called "three scream."

Brazil Northeast

Cono's impoverished youth on the beaches of Northeast Brazil is evoked by the song he sings to himself at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, just before he flies to Almaty in the hope of saving Xiao Li. The song is "Itapuã," by Caetano Veloso. The touching last line translates as "She was my guide when I was happy and young." The full lyrics, sung by Caetano, are here:

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