Saturday, September 13, 2008

An August Settling

I have noticed that I don't usually write much in August. Maybe it's the heat, wearing the brain down to the sharpness of a dull pencil. Or maybe it's the fact that at the height of summer, those long days demand more action and less reflection. Words usually reserved for the written form instead come tumbling out in beer- and excitement-fueled encounters, those planned and those created by fate. But this year, the words themselves , and the thought processeses behind them, were more than a bit off.

Through June and July, the taking of short trips alternated with the hosting of guests, becoming like baubles on a string. The more they built up, the thinner that strand became, until it threatened to snap. At the same time, I was struck by the first real bout of homesickness in the 14 years I've lived here. I felt completely detached from the present, drifting back and forth between memories of last year's pleasant summer spent in Vermont's kinder climate, and escape plans made for next year. Where the mind goes, the emotions follow, until both completely slipped their tether. By the time August rolled around, this was all playing out in small mysterious injuries, general grumpiness, outright loathing for my adopted land, and a bizarre nervous energy that was apparent to anyone who had the misfortune to cross my path during those dog days of Kyoto summertime.

So I decided to take a small retreat. Miki headed home to Hiroshima for Obon, leaving me with four days for and with myself. I stocked up on food and didn't step outside the whole time, committing myself to silence, yet allowing myself to follow every whim. Meditation, books, music, and films. (It wasn't all silence I suppose, since one of the latter was Jimi's 90 minute Woodstock set, watched on the anniversary of the festival.)

On the fifth day, I found myself riding a bus through the dead countryside of north Shikoku, past bastard children of the moneyed bubble years now in decay. Our friends Yayoi and Seiichi are in the midst of building a house further south in the far more beautiful rural Kochi, hoping to eventually replace their Osaka artist basecamp. It is a remote place, with a half dozen farmhouses and an early Meiji-era schoolhouse, all stretched along a small but fast-moving river. The school has since been converted to a shared community space for the villagers. When I arrived, Seiichi and other members of Rustic Pans (who I raved about here) were leading a workshop on building and playing steel drums. These workshops are held every month, attended by people coming from all over Shikoku and West Japan. After the workshop, the four of us began to make dinner. Shortly after getting picked up at the centipede-like structure of Kochi station, we had bought supplies for the next few days. But they turned out to be unnecessary. Our quiet dinner sooned turned into a party. Within an hour about twenty people turned up, including most of the village, plus a couple of artists doing a circumnavigation of Shikoku's beaches and hot springs. The locals brought down veggies, booze, and ayu which been obliviously swimming not an hour before. The main highlight was the homemade sake that went down like springwater. Not once was I treated as 'other', which went a long way toward restoring some of the love I have for things Japan.

Since Yayoi and Seiichi's house was as yet uninhabitable, the plan had been to camp out front. But the village headman was kind enough to let us lay out our sleeping bags inside the school itself. It was lovely to walk the halls and classrooms early the next morning, the traces of childhood energy still there. I had expected to face a day filled with light carpentry and lugging stuff around, but after a mere hour of work, we were off to a nearby town for a curry in a minka restored into a cafe by a artist/musician. Turns out he and Miki had met in Kyoto years ago when he had come to visit her roommate. After our meal, he showed us around his art space in a massive converted factory, while white-water rafters floating down the river just behind.

Back in the village, we worked on the house for maybe a hour more, then broke for the day. (I can now see why they're still working on this place after three years. I look forward to coming back here again and again to continue this pace of the grasshopper.) After our respective baths, Seiichi was earnest in his wish to hide somewhere while having dinner. Every night for a week, the villagers had turned up to drink, and by now he was exhausted. Yet ironically, no one else turned up this last night. Mercifully, we all slept and rose early to make the long drive back to Kansai. I especially was pleased to get home long before dark, since I was setting off to Sado early the next morning...

On the turntable: Jefferson Airplane, "Takes Off"

On the nighttable: Alistair MacLeod, "No Great Mischief"

On the reel table: "Pitfall" (Teshigahara, 1962)


taikotari said...

Now, now, don't be a tease. Please write about Sado even a little bit. :)

ted said...

Wow! Your hunger sure is making you cranky!

Tune in tomorrow...