Project and Travel Blog
What I love most about travel is the challenge of the new. This past month I have been in France, all in Paris and Japan. In France I walked the streets endlessly, lost five pounds, ate ferociously, drank semi-modestly, made enormous discoveries. What I discovered was: I'll say it again, the challenge; the challenge of new language, sounds, foods, smells and just the excitement of traveling through the city. New language, bon Jour, madame; bon soir, monsieur; Hotels like the Le Royal Monceau where the rouge Cornas "Les Challis" rolled off my tongue; my old buddy the Parc Luxembourg hotel, a sweet intimate polished little place, where when I came in at O' dark thirty, turned to my right to find my Cameroon night desk man Jules quietly chuckling and saying in his deep rich African voice, " Man don't you ever sleep"?
"Not tonight Jules, Champagne for me and a glass for you if you like." We would stand there in the dark of Paris, now and then a motor scooter, and talk about his life as a young man in rural Africa, and mine. He told me he spent the first few years of his life in a round mud hut, I said the first few of mine were spent in a garage, where we lived until we could build a house. He said he thought all Americans were rich when he was a boy.
How did you travel so far from home I asked? "I had loving parents" he said, "who gave me, at their expense, a good education. I excelled at tennis in school and be came quiet proficient at it," he said. "I traveled professionally and about the same time I landed in Paris my knees gave out, and so now I play for fun and work this job at night, nuit. "Do you play?" he asked hopefully. "No" I said, "I am not a tennis player, but I watch it all of the time. Roger Federer is my favorite. He is so calm on the court though I heard that when he was up and coming he use to bend his rackets around the net post." He laughed, "I'm familiar," he said.
I liked this man. I told him I had several Cameroon masks which I treasured.
"Why are you here," he asked?
"My son and his girl friend are here for three months," I told him: "exploring, writing, studying the language and visiting nearly every important sight in Paris." They invited me to come over to visit, and of course, i came. They have been so loving, the perfect hosts. l treasure Paris, especially with them they are wanting to show me everything they themselves find interesting and feel that I may enjoy. They are kindness personified. We walk down the Rue St Honere they both have their arms around me and mine around them. The other day in the sun and with the early spring blossoms just starting to beautifully unfold, we went to the boulangerie, bought a loaf of pain ordinaire, a bottle of French red, a gateau au chocolate with Pistachio filling and covered with fresh whole raspberries, walked to the park, sat on a bench in the sun, ate, drank and watched the children and old men sail model sailboats on the little concrete surrounded pond there. Our fingers were covered with luscious chocolate; our mouths filled with red wine and our hearts filled with joy. Our life is like that here in Paris.
He smiled, his large pliable lips parting slightly and then said, "it is easy to see that you have earned their love and as a result of your love for them, they love you freely, openly without restraint; life is like that no matter what the nationality " This kind of made me tear-up. So I changed the subject and told him of our walk over to the Pantheon where we saw the Foucault pendulum hanging by a thin wire from God's eye from the top of the Pantheon dome, which Foucault created to demonstrate earth's rotation. I also told him, even though he knew of it, that in the basement crypts, Rousseau was interred. His crypt was the most delightful because of the carving on the front of it, like a little partially open door was his hand extending holding a candle. This was so pertinent, as he was a French philosopher and major writer in the age of enlightenment.
As I looked at Jules he started to wobble, only I realized it was I that was wobbling. I had hit that dreaded wall one hits when his world time clock is off. I wished him good evening. As I walked to the elevator he called after me and said,"does your son play tennis?" I hit the up button and told him I would let him know in the morning. As I ascended to my top floor apartment I reminisced about the day in rainy sunny Paris. Her skirts showing floral freshness. It"s spring in Paris. The gold encrusted monuments, Cleopatra's needle, Crillon hotel, the D'orsay musee, Nortre-Dame, the Alexander the third bridge with all of it's gold covered Belle Epoch sculpture, wandering along the quai des Tuileries, the Seine, flowing fast and high from spring rains, windows filled with the latest haute couture. Colors this year in Paris tend to be shell pink and Chinoise red. Look for these colors next year in the USA. Finally I remembered the wise words of a dear friend, a jewelry maker from the Urals who made works for Leonid Brezhnev, saying to me one winter's day in her little Stalinist apartment. She was five feet tall and nut brown. She told me "Douglas," in her heavy Russian accent, "I know a river in Siberia that is filled with Jade boulders and every boulder is a sculpture, come with me and i will guide you there. I longed to do this! Then she said "have you been to Paris?", Yes I said, and she said, "Paris is worth the mass."
As I shut off the light that night in rainy fragrant Paris I was thinking also that in three weeks I would be in Japan. How could I know then that names like Rousseau, Voltaire, and Napoleon would be replaced with sounds and villages like Takayama, Shirakawa,Kanazawa and finally the 1700's painter Fukuhara Gogaku. I'll tell you about him later. Bon Soir and good night.
TOTO THE SINGING TOILET: IN JAPAN THE TOILETS ARE MARVELS OF WONDER AND WORKS OF ART. AS I APPROACH THE TOILET WITH SOME TREPIDATION, THERE ARE ELECTRIC WIRES HANGING FROM THE THING, THE SEAT OPENS UP AND THE WHOLE THING STARTS TO HUM. AS I STAND THERE IN WONDERMENT THE COMMODE STARTS TO FLASH LITTLE LIGHTS LIKE R2D2, IT SQUEAKS, IT SINGS AND WHEN I SETTLE MYSELF DOWN ON THE HEATED SEAT IT GIVES A SATISFIED LITTLE SIGH OF CONTENTMENT AS THOUGH I WERE IT'S NEW BEST FRIEND, WE HAVE CONSUMMATED OUR, TOTO AND MINE, NEW RELATIONSHIP. FROM SOMEWHERE BENEATH ME A LITTLE FOUNTAIN OF WATER STARTS RUN TO REMIND ME WHY I AM THERE AND TO MAKE THINGS EASIER TO, DARE I SAY, ACCOMPLISH MY GOAL. WHEN DEFECATION OCURES, I HATE TO MENTION THE WORD WITHOUT A MASK, A SYMPHONIC LITTLE FAN MYSTERIOUSLY WHISKS AWAY ANY FLATULENT OLFACTORY ESSENCE HUMING A LITTLE TUNE, FOR PRIVACY, AT THE SAME TIME. JANE SAYS WHEN SHE SITS THE TOILET SINGS YANKEE DOODLE DANDY.
WHEN I STAND I SOMEHOW, UNREASONABLE I KNOW, I EXPECT THIS MARVEL OF TECHNOLOGY WITH ALL THIS COMPLETE APPLICATION OF SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE; WITH ALL OF IT'S APPLIED MONUMENTAL LAYING ON OF THE HANDS/SEAT TO, STICK WITH ME HERE; TO PULL UP MY PANTS; PAT ME ON THE POPO; AND SEND ME ON MY WAY. NEAR BY ON THE WALL THERE IS A CONTROL PANEL FIT TO LAUNCH A ROCKET THAT WILL WHEN PROMPTED GIVE ME A GENTLE WARM WASH AT VARIED DEGREES OF PRESSURE, WILL WASH ME FRONT OR BACK, FLUSH AUTOMATICALLY, AND WITH A WARM GENTLE BREEZE REDOLENT OF THE TROPICS EVER SO GENTLY DRY ME.
ON THE TOP OF THE BACK OF THE TOILET THERE IS A FAUCET AND A TOWEL NEAR BY, WONDERMENT. YET IN SOME RESTAURANTS AND TRAIN STATIONS AND THE LIKE THERE ARE SIMPLY HOLES IN THE FLOOR NO COMMODE, ONE JUST SQUATS ON THE FLOOR AND WHAT? NO TOILET PAPER! THIS BEGGARS MY IMAGINATION. AH YES A STRANGER IN A STRANGE AND TRULY WONDERFUL LAND. I LOVE JAPAN!
I am dreaming, my time clock is out of whack! I awake in the middle of the night from dreams of myopic turmoil. I roll over on my side pull my knees up and lie there a while then finally I roll over throw the covers off, reach for the light cord in the dark, find it and turn on the blinding light. I am sweaty, the room is hot and I haven't adjusted to the sounds of the city so I have the window closed. Standing I and go to the window and open it. Looking out I see a rainy Paris, Another rainy day I left Seattle in a driving rain storm the last three months were soggy there, only to arrive in Paris, the city of light, which is now dark and raining as well. As I lean out a whining motor scooter splashes down the Rue de Luxembourg. Its driver a smallish looking dark presence leaning into the wind and weather, wet. I avoid my phone and its clock I go over to the wall by the door and turn down the heat. As I turn I look at my ever so charming room The bath is all grey white marble, the walls are covered in paintings and the ceiling beams are old old old, full of worm holes and charm. I go round the bed and climb in and shut the light, lie down on my side pull my knees up and tell my self the time in Seattle is one in the afternoon and I am wide awake. I roll one way then the other and think I am asleep and then I don't know and then I am awake drink some water then back at it convincing myself I am going to sleep. I itch here I itch there, maddening. Next when I am really sleeping soundly I hear the maid rapping lightly on the door and from a dream of waves and roaring I shout out, "thank you" and roll over to go back to sleep. It seems as though I get to really sleeping for a moment the maids want to freshen up the room. Once again she raps, once again I shout and close my eyes. I didn't put out the do not disturb sign last night. Again rapping, OK I shout through the carved wooden door and a voice quiet and respectful comes back through the oak door, a soft mellifluous voice calls "It's me your son Nevis."
I am flying business out of Seattle to Frankfurt, then on to Paris. Business is worth it. Leaving Seattle in a gray, driving, leaden rain that was propelled by Northerlies. I jumped from my car at SeaTac, Kissed fervently my beautiful wife, Jane. I walked to the Lufthansa desk and presented my papers. I was whisked off to the clear line, a service that we paid for last year, which takes you to the front of the line and through the anxiety that is security. Security, it seems, is always an anxiety-ridden event. I have nothing to fear except the mold and foot diseases that abound on the floor of the transit area around the passage from security to 'okay, you are free to board.' I am jostled and pushed, and in turn, pushed an jostled, as I preliminarily take off my shoes. The floor is a crowding mass of microbes. I once read that 95 percent of taxis in New York City are smeared with germs that I have no desire to know the names of. Names like Thiscoccus and Thatstrepto, and well, my toes are curling. I pull off my belt, my pants slide down three inches, empty my pockets, take out my coins, passport, receipts for things I forgot I bought, tickets for transfer from Frankfurt to Paris, keys to my truck, which I didn't want to bring, and finally, at the bottom of my capacious pockets: a small, custom, stainless steel pocket knife I received as a gift last Christmas.
The TSA officer, a plump girl of about 25, eyes the knife as though it were perhaps a hand grenade, looks me in the eyes, and shakes her head. She presents me with a choice - go back through security and mail it to myself, in which case I run the risk of missing my flight, or follow her pointed finger, like the ghost of the past in Scrooge, at a dark and forever-lost garbage can. I threw it in, and asked innocently, "where will it go?" She shrugged. I asked secondarily, had anyone ever done a medical swab on the infected floor beneath my feet. She eyed me seriously. Perhaps I was some kind of agitator. All of the people around me were going through the x-ray machines as well, giving up their dignity. Some in bare feet, God forbid on that putrescent floor. My belongings were x-rayed. I was x-rayed, my neighbors were x-rayed, and the whole place had a radio-isotope glow that had me wishing the shoe-bomber was having a miserable day wherever he was incarcerated. Through security, I quickly put on my shoes, put on my belt, refilled my pockets, minus my knife, of course. I took my irradiated carry-ons and left for the train to S Gates, still holding a modicum of my dignity after undressing and redressing in public. The Lufthansa transit lounge is secure and privileged, and I am once more glad I am traveling business class.
Air travel - what a marvel! My mortal body at 36,000 feet over the Arctic, secure in my stratolounger seat, which folds into a bed, into a chaise lounge, with a footrest, and a manifold of other contortions. Out my window (I like to sit by the window to see the world go by). I see below this frozen wilderness where only 100 or 200 years ago people in skin boats hunted seals, where the Hudson Bay Company's 'Nonsuch' boat disgorged trappers onto the Canadian wilderness, and sweated, and froze, and toiled, and cursed, where I now serenely, warm, and very comfortable, fly over in a moment, a miracle.
Part of the miracle for me in this trip, my son Nev and his girlfriend Morgan, a beautiful woman, are living in Paris for three months. When they left from Seattle they said no-one was to visit them on this European sojourn, especially family. I concurred, and so my wife, Jane, and I decided instead we would go to Tokyo and Seoul, Korea to watch the cherry blossoms.
What's the music...try utube biwa.
Do you ever awake in your oh-so-comfortable warmth of your own bed, lie there sweetly, serenely, feeling as though you are square somehow with the universe, that around you everything is perfectly level, harmonious, and somehow you are a part of the music of the spheres?
We are flying east into the darkness. My mind is unhinged when I fly. The windows are tinged with pink to the west. Below, all is in shadow. While here at 36,000 feet, I still have a bit of pink from the day's sun reflected by the wings and the great, thrusting engines driving me east into the night. I can't help myself. I think of Napoleon driving his armies east into the Russian winters. And Hitler and his maniacal madness advancing the same road east only to try to retreat the same disastrous burnt road west in defeat. I saw a graveyard in the Atlas Mountains in southern Poland once, where all was teutonic crosses - gray and perfect - with the names of the dead. There were privates, corporals, generals, all buried in mass graves, all having died the same day, and this, only a day's drive from Auschwitz to the north.
We glide east. Dinner is over. I feast on the remains: cheese and cognac. Night has now come, not only to those 36,000 feet below, but to our glowing 747, pushing, willing its way ever eastward. The horizon is now only a thin, pink line, the sun's energy spent on this day, and the light now is in the cabin of our ship. Below it is dark, the strobes off the wings flash neon tetra warnings as to our presence in the dark sky. Off to the east, it is morning it is morning in Paris. Off the west, it is evening in Seattle and I am at the arc.
Travel is a bit like dying. You make all the preparations. You leave everything behind. You make plans for your departure. You hug your dogs. You kiss the cat. Embrace your love, and then you depart. It's a lesson. Get used to it. It comes to all.
BelovedIvan will be installed at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium's entrance later this fall.
Learn more at BelovedIvan.org
#BelovedIvan will entertain and entice and teach future generations about this majestic species.
History Museum Welcomes Russian Art Exhibit
Harbor History Museum is excited to announce the opening of East of Moscow: Russian Art Collection from the collection of Douglas Granum, artist of The Big Catch, on March 11th. Spanning the years of 1961-2007, this exhibit will show the unique works of a range of Soviet artists from the Ural Mountains, a region located between the western Volga River and eastern Siberia in Russia.
While Soviet-era politics limited the artistic expression of those not sanctioned by the state, creativity still found a way to survive amidst repression. East of Moscow showcases the resourcefulness of artists during the Soviet area, as well as through the complex transitions of the post-Communist years. Among the standout pieces of the collection include three works by Juri Lapshin, a celebrated Russian artist. The exhibit also gives a fascinating glimpse into the travel experiences of the collector throughout the region beginning in the late 1990s.
East of Moscow opens on March 11th and runs through April 3rd. Entry to the exhibit is free for members, and complimentary with price of general museum admission for non-members. For more information about Harbor History Museum, contact Alphild Dick, Marketing & Events Coordinator at email@example.com or 253-858-6722 ext. 5. Find out more about the Museum at www.harborhistorymuseum.org or visit Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.