Project and Travel Blog
Love, big topic. When I travel, part of my greatest enjoyment is in watching and talking to people. The worlds a fun and exciting place when you speak the language and even more mysterious when you don't. I speak neither French, except menu French, and no Japanese, not even menu. Sometimes, however, we can and do make sense out of foreign speech and understand others on some other deeper plane beyond speech. There are some good things about not understanding the language of those around you, some bad but by no means not all bad. When all around, you are reduced to looks, hand gestures, sounds, drawings on a napkin, all of a sudden the intricacies of another's speech are replaced by your own thoughts, guesses, listening to French or Japanese words that maybe, just maybe sound English. Certainly it is easier in French, a romance language, but no give away. These "familiar" sounding words in French, for instance, have verbally no connection, speech is reduce to an interesting candor where I can and do say anything I wish, nuance or otherwise, in a word blunt and no one understands. But that is not my goal, my goal is to be understood. The sound of another's voice becomes a bird cry, the sound of a groan at night, through the hotel walls. Once in a while an erotic look, no words necessary. It is interesting to note that after a while even without knowing and thinking you understand, you begin in small subtle ways to understand, perhaps like your dog understands.The sound of your voice devoid of the meaning of your words, rising in sound level, the faster clicking of the tongue against the roof of your mouth, your eyes keyed to your soul, all show meaning. All this goes on but I understand nothing you smile I listen, that's it. Someone utters some words and then they blush and I am left to wonder why. Looks are utterances, mute and expressive, a brute forcefulness of abstract sounds and delightful animation.
Love is language, the language of love. Everywhere it is different from my observation. I passed couples in Paris laid out on the spring grass under budding cherry trees, partially protected by jackets or blankets performing acts of love that in some countries would lead to the hangman. People kiss, I mean really kiss, hold, fondle, smile, look deep into each other's eyes with that erotic look, no words necessary, engage in eroticism that is a teaching moment done well. Travel is learning, if you do it right. If you go looking for dark and dower, you will find it, if you go looking for goodness and intelligence, you will find that too. What you seek you will most often find.
In Japan in the little Alpine village of Takayama, somewhat like the north Cascades of my home state, we had the good fortune to find a guide for the day, Hiro by name, who became my Hero,to take us out to to see the village. We learned from him, inadvertently that most everything in Japan has symbolic meaning based on centuries of understanding , much of it about and between the sexes. The great Tori gates are male and female we learned. That one walked beneath them on the sides, as only the Gods or ignorant foreigners walked down the middle. The temple dogs, similar to the Foo Dogs of the Chinese, were saying something, one with its mouth open was saying AH, first letter in the Japanese alphabet, while its counterpart on the other side of of the entry, with mouth closed, was saying URG, like a growl, last letter in the Japanese alphabet.
Hiro, was around 27 years old and had been educated in our state at Eastern Washington college, hence we all felt like family. We were talking back and forth about life and since we were family I was telling him about mine, and he shocked us by telling us that he had never seen his parents hug or kiss in his presence. Had he ever kissed his father, I asked, no and no, hugged I asked, no and no? Unfathomable. He had only shook his father's hand, never hugged either his mother or father. I couldn't believe it I have hugged and kissed both of my parents for ever. When did they come together I wondered as Japan was not underpopulated? When we parted on that final moment which we all must face, he hugged us with warmth and we him, very sweet. He then as a parting comment told us that when he was going to school in the USA that his host family was very loving and close, hence he learned to be close as well. When finally stepping down off of the train, in Takayama, on his return after four years, he, to the immense shock of his parent ran up to them and hugged and kissed them, he said they cried.
"In all things, the principle holds true that decline threatens when further expansion is impossible."
"Kenko". There is no stasis, either one is going forward or backward, especially in love.
imo ga kakine wa
tsubana majiri no
sumire no mi shite."
"The fence round her house,
The woman I loved long ago,
Is ravaged and fallen;
Only violets remain
Mingled with the spring weeds."
" Fujiwara no Kinsada" 1099-1103.
200 miles per hour, Tokyo to Nagoya on the Shinkansen, Japan's much vaunted bullet train and I am reading Cheri by Colette, a book that I l purchased in Paris at Shakespeare and company in Saint Germain-des-Pres on the banks of the Seine. Sensuous and acute, unsentimental about an amorous courtesan facing the end of her career and falls in love with Cheri, a man 24 years her junior, I will say no more. At the same time I am reading a book first published in 1686 about courtesans on the other side of the world, "Five women who loved love", by Ihara Saikakua a bawdy erotic tale about life-loving in early Japan. My glass of Suntory whisky sits on the arm rest as the Bullet train drives through the countless tunnels so fast that the air pressure pushes my ear drums in then out. Mount Fuji comes into view sailing along with me on one of my own 100 views of Mt Fuji. Katsushika Hokusai, 1760-1849, famous for his paintings immortalized and was immortalized by his immense works especially his "100 views of Mt Fuji."
As we pass through into tunnels and out, into tunnels and out,many tunnels, Fuji, another coy courtesan, shows a bit of her peak, then hides behind the rice fields, then a little of her hip visible in the Sumi-like clouds, then gone completely, until, as though ready to play the game of love, reveals herself in all of her tetonic glory. I am in love.
Rocketing along, sipping my whiskey, I idly roll back time by rolling back the pages of my diary, which is all distorted since I left it in the rain one night, to find this indicator of my mind at this time: 3-14-17, one week till Tokyo, one week since Paris.
RAIN, GRAY, CLOUDY, DULL, RAIN, STEADY, POURING, SHAWLING, DRIPPING, THE HUMID SKY SO LOW THE RAIN ALMOST HAS NOWHERE TO FALL. RAIN CAN EFFECT EVEN THE STOUTEST. ONE NEEDS TO MAKE A CHOICE, BE SEVERELY DEPRESSED OR DO SOMETHING ELSE. MY SITUATION , CALL IT THAT, IS THIS, I HAVE JUST COME BACK FROM A MOST MARVELOUS PARISIAN TRIP AND THE POST VACATIONS BLUES HOVER NEAR. ADD THE THREAT OF THE DARK SKIES AND REMEMBRANCES OF PARIS DRIVE ME TO DARKNESS. I SIT HERE THIS DARK AND DREARY RAIN SODDEN SOAKED MORNING IN MY BATHROBE IN FRONT OF THE OUTDOOR FIREPLACE, THINKING OF PARIS AND ITS JEWEL LIKE FACETS, LISTENING TO LA TRAVIATA THINKING OF VERONA WHERE WE WATCHED THE FULL JULY MOON COME UP OVER THE RIM OF A 1 AD ROMAN COLISEUM . FINALLY AS I WRITE, POOR BLIND POGO WANDERS ALL OVER THE OCEAN OF WET GRASS LOOKING FOR THE PERFECT PLACE. HE WANTS TO PEE, OH MY.
PARIS WHERE ARE YOU?
Well back to the train. Japan runs on time! We found that out this morning as we boarded the Shinkansen. We made it through the maze of hotel, and packing, through the gates to the station, Shingawa, and down and successfully thorough the gates to the Shinkansen way side, found out where the number one car with the green logo was, meaning reserved seating and finally stood waiting for our 9:35 train, which arrived in a moment about 9:30. We congratulated ourselves on wending our way through the various challenges, and boarding. As the train doors closed, and the train accelerated up to 200 miles per hour we walked against the thrust of the forward movement to our reserved seats. Someone was in our seats, I noted this to the individual and showed him my ticket, he looked at it for a moment and said, "we were on the wrong train" Our train was the one immediately behind this train, new important lesson, Japanese trains leave on the second. Many times for the rest of the trip I timed the arrival and departure, they were to the second. However all is well that ends well, to quote the Bard, as this train we were on stops at Kyoto for some seconds as well so the net result was we arrived in Kyoto 10 minutes early. This was an early and important lesson, taxis, trains, planes, restaurants, etc all run on schedule. This I found to be most helpful. Also with the mass of people in Japan it is essential that all play from the same playbook otherwise there would ensue chaos. Paris is similar as well, all on time. but feels much more used. For instance the Japanese taxi has white doily-like covers over all of the seats and feels very clean, also the driver wears a smart dark blue pressed uniform with white gloves, what a difference from New York, or Cuba for that matter.
Tokyo, which we have just left, is a marvel of technology and age combined. Amid the jungle of high-rise buildings there stands the antique imperial palace with its moat. Tokyo is about 14 million souls and everyone of them seems to be on the street or in the train station each morning and evening. Walking and talking with the Japanese involves a lot of bowing, and head nodding a fascinating kind of ritual dance. A bit like the gulls on the beach walking this way and then nodding and bowing during spring mating season. In fact whether one is in Paris or Tokyo there is this ritual dance. This can involve driving or walking. People seemingly in their own world walking along somehow miss running into everyone around them. Cell phone talkers glued to their phones, concentrating intently on the little glowing screen, somehow, ostensibly with out looking, glide through pedestrians and auto crosswalks as well. The city is a fascination for me, I spend so much time on the quiet place I call home. What a crush to enter a department store, even to get in the door requires some dexterity. Add to this that in Japan they drive on the left hence walk on the left. When I meet someone walking toward me they, naturally they go right to pass and I naturally because we drive on the right side, I go left to get around hence, we run into each other, a pedestrian head on. It's all charming no matter what, there is great vitality in the orient.
The Japanese have a wonderful unusual way with American idioms to wit: a music store: JOY SOUND. Restaurant : Happy food, Night delight, Pride potato, Happy hotdog, a shoe store: Pleased foot. The names they come up with are fun and unusual and creative which I like, since I like anything creative. I remember when I first saw a car named Golf. I thought whats this, no Indian name, no Pontiac, no Cadillac, no family names, Ford, Dodge, etc. Ah well it all changes, I now drive my King Ranch, whats the dif?
Tokyo and Paris, what a contrast Tokyo was fire bombed during WW 2, flattened, utterly destroyed. I cry and weep for the lost lives and lost culture. The ancient paintings, homes of exquisite architecture. gardens, collections all gone. As William Morris, 1834-1896 noted: "Kings are remembered for the wars they fought and what they destroyed, artists are remembered for the beauty they create." Small wonder when war is near the artful objects are hidden for unlike many temporal things in this life, antique creative treasure cannot be replicated.
Tokyo was founded, indeed the whole of Japan, and forged in flame and heat and tempering, like a Samurai sword. there was so much pain I find it hard to imagine. Tokyo was a city of single floored exotically carved wood and paper structures. Without going into the reasons, this treasure was slapped down, pushed down, bombed with nuclear bombs, and incendiary fuel air devices. One would think that where this horror took place there would still be devastation apparent. I didn't see it and I didn't hear it. Instead I saw a resilient people, talked with them and they told me the hatred is gone, they have moved on. How impressive. The Japanese have been polite, kind, helpful, of good cheer and conscious of keeping their homes and city spotless.
They are the masters of the small and precious.
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!