Saturday, January 14, 2006

Back to the Garden

Spent the later half of the New Year's holiday wandering the Kyo. It was an exercise in rediscovering a skill I used to excell at: passing a day rather than building one. Instead of rushing forward toward the next thing, I merely strolled thought the now. A slightly snow-covered now.

Spent most of my time with Amanda, engaged in conversation and caffeine. We no doubt hit most of the coffee shops around Teramachi. Topics flowed at varying speeds, probably one of my favorites being about getting a university degree in comedy. Imagine the courses. "Existentialism in Knock-knock Jokes: Who IS there?"

On the riverbank, two children build a snowman. Moments later a little dog pisses on it. The next day, most of the snow is gone, but the snowman remains. Then yet another little dog pisses on it. Is this some bizarre Kamo-gawa snowman ghat, with dogs taking the place of vultures? Well, it is their year...

One day, still thinking I'm going to the States, I change an absurd amount of yen into travellers checks. The bank's highest denomination is 100s. So I go to a nearby Starbucks, and sitting at a window-front table, I whip out my roll and begin signing. I get the attention of people both inside and out, feeling like quite the little gangster.

In the alleys of Ponto-cho, a photography club huddles and ducks, trying not to get each other in the shot. I wonder about stereotypes. Did a Meiji-era foreigner once stumble across such a club, inadvertantly giving rise to the Japanese as Shutterbug thing? I ponder this as I play a Taiko video game, pounding along to children's songs which boom along a surprisingly quiet Kawaramachi Street.

Off Ponto-cho is the Piranha Bar. I imagine a whole, roasted cow being placed between tables. The customers eat the thing from their respective sides. If the finish the entire cow in under 60 seconds, it's free. Plus they get their photo (courtesy of the photography club, of course) in the window.

In nearby Kahula coffee shop, playing a magnetic fishing game as the speakers expell that classic Hawaiian song, the one that anybody who's ever been to Waikiki has heard dozens of times. Yet like me, couldn't tell you the group or the title.

Speaking of music. Get a chance to see the group Mandala play twice. At the group's center is a young couple, Eric and Rie, who spend the year in a handful of countries. In each place, they've surrounded themselves with a revolving group of musicians, who play live shows with them when they're in town. While maintaining a certain sound, each night has different instrumentation and styles, therefore ensuring that every gig is different. Though they always rip. At the end of both gigs, I happily join in for a jam. Flute and darbuka on Friday (at El Latino, whose chorizo is the best in Japan, hands down). Djembe on Sunday (at Falafel Garden, near Demachiyanagi). I really love this type of scene they've created, and hope to play with them more regularly when they get back to Kyoto in the summer.

Sunday morning, walking from Keage up to a large shrine, through its cave, then over the ridge toward Nanzenji. Along the way, snow drops from trees in large clumps, and it gives the effect that Nature itself is collapsing. The bamboo on the opposite hill seem to shiver in the cold. Beside a small waterfall, I find a statue of Fudo-myo. With my refound convictions, I pray to this deity of the immovable spirit. "Help keep me on the path." A short time later, ducking into Seisho-in to see the famous, anonymous poem (who DID write it?), Amanda smacks her head on the doorway. In the material world, concrete is more immovable than spirit.

On the turntable: "Sahara Lounge"

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