Thursday, July 27, 2006

Gion and on...

(Cliche coming. Just as every J-blogger will write about the sakura of April, every resident of the Kyo will inevitably write about Gion matsuri.)

It was my second Gion experience. the last time was 11 years ago, with Gordo and C-Lo. Due to certain excesses and the passage of time, memory is hazy, but I remember staying at Hiden-in (soonafter dubbed Hiden-ism), a real, octopus-free taco stand somewhere in the backstreets of Pontocho, and bands playing in the smoke-filled Kamo river bed. My main memory is of a yukata clad girl talking on a cellphone. This was a unique sight back in '95, and no matter how hard I tried to take a photo, she kept twisting and turning like Marlo Thomas in order to escape my lens. The following day was sunny, but a sudden deluge found us huddled somewhere in Daitokuji, reading Gary Snyder poems while waiting for the onslaught to cease.

This year's weather was even worse. I met up with MatsuMiki, Maaaachin, and his friend Hideyo at Yasaka Jinja, where we looked over a sea of damp black hair to watch Kagura. The group this year was from next door in Shimane, where Kagura flourishes. I've seen the art many times, but never a group this visually amazing, swirling and jumping and swinging swords. Our vantage point was directly in front of the mikoshi, so I'm sure we wound up in lots of people's pictures. When the rain let up a little, we headed down Shijo, stopping often for food or to watch random performers. One taiko group was really cookin' in front of Minami-za, but my attention was repeatedly drawn to a nearby combini for beer, coffee, snacks, ice cream. We kept going west, saying hello to many yukata-clad friends. To escape the crush, we went into a Mexican restaurant in Kiyamachi. A lone guy in a huge black sombrero was working his way through the Spanish songbook. Amazingly, he did "Guantanamera," which I'd been humming out on the streets earlier.

The next morning, it poured. We decided to watch the parade anyway. It was a morning of umbrella spines at eye-height and pointy elbows in ribs. Somehow, we got a decent vantage point to see the yamaboko make their turn onto Shijo. (And used my yogic contortions to get decent photos.) We eventually had enough of rain and spent the rest of the day going cafe to cafe but never fully getting dry, or warm. But in true festival mood, laughs were aplenty. How to eat a banana without using your hands. A traditional art for opening doors. Essay writing, East and West.

And after the drumming ceased, both in my ears and on my head, it was time for a bath.

On the turntable: The Pogues, "The Very Best of..."
On the nighttable: Jim Thompson, "Pop. 1280"

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