Sunday, November 20, 2022

Sunday Papers: Tim Parks


"The wheel may have given us mobility and freedom, but it cuts us off from the world."

On the turntable:  Phish, "Live Bait, Vol. 12"

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Nakasendo Waypoints #104


                                         Northern winds
                                  Blow away the faint cries
                              Of the last insects of summer


On the turntable: Bob Dylan, "Dancing in the Dark"

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Knowing Tranquility XXIII (Momoshima)



The sea reflected silver under herringbone skies.  The ferry drifted along the colorful wooden houses that lined the shore and past the stone Ozu lantern, before picking up speed once beyond the Onomichi Bridge towering above.  We were essentially traveling in the wake of yesterday's high speed trip, but I was solo this time, my two companions have left on a morning train.  I stood alone on the bow, face into a wind so high that I removed my sunglasses for fear of them being torn from my face.  

Seen from above, the figures standing on the dock at Momoshima were spaced in a way that made them look like they were posing for an album cover.  I had nearly three hours until my scheduled rendezvous with the people from the island's Art Base, so decided to buy my return ticket.  I caught up with elderly the ticket taker as she made her way back to the village proper, and as she counted out my change I noted that her eyes were a deep blue.  My daughter's mother, also an island girl, had mentioned that her own grandfather had eyes of a similar shade.  I pondered ancient seafaring foreigners who may have spent time sheltering from storms on these islands, adding in a night of passion their own personal stamp on the genetic makeup of the inhabitants.  

I headed inland to explore, aiming for a dotted line on a map that might have indicated a trailhead up to the site of the old castle that had once overlooked the harbor.  Momoshima had an interesting geography in having a central inland indentation ringed by hills, that undoubtedly offered ample protection from typhoons.  It helped explain why there were so few houses near the harbor itself.  There was no rice cultivation here, but plenty of vegetable plots.  

I wandered up through the quiet grounds of a small shrine tucked against a grove of bamboo.  Below me was the long abandoned school that was the now home to the Art Base.  I wound down and around the foot of the mountain but couldn't find a feeder route anywhere.  The most likely road dead-ended suddenly, home now to a pair of decades old vehicles rusting themselves out of existence beneath the bamboo.  I probably could have bushwhacked, but these thickets belied the existence of vipers who thrive in their shadowy corners.  

I instead returned to the bowl-like valley, not a soul in sight.  The homes were old but definitely lived in, the post office that served them shaped like the straw hats of the festival dancers of Shikoku just across the water.  The Art Base had a small mushroom farm beside the water, but there was no one here either.  So I wandered back to the harbor to read awhile.  

This too was void of activity but for a young man preparing to open a coffee shop.  The adjacent lot had a small trailer/kiosk Beer Bar that did drinks and food, plus a few chairs scattered across the lawn.  As the young man was telling me that he wouldn't be set up for a while, I noted a poster for a glamping site at the island's extreme west end.  The walk there and back provided the perfect diversion.

A family of bicyclists passed me as I moved past fields of weeds topped with little yellow christmas trees.  One plot looked post apocalyptic as it engulfed a long beached boat and a towering crane whose rust combined with the weeds below provided a sort of foretaste of the hues the maples would do in a couple month's time.  I traced the shoreline to a small peninsula upon which new guest houses were sprouting up like mushrooms.  Though varying in look, their uniform theme hinted at a common owner, who had a created pretty remarkable chill-out space indeed, with long wide-decks, cozy chairs, and every-ready BBQ grills, all reflected in large windows facing the sea.  

I backtracked to the glamping grounds.  Beside the yurts and tent sites was a small cafe, and I called out an order of iced coffee to the young couple running the place.  They joined me out on the deck out front, where I alternated between chatting with them and dipping into Alex Kerr's book on the Heart Sutra when they were pulled away by one duty or another.  All the while, the sea quietly lapped the sand of a small stretch of beach not far beyond my toes.  



The noon ferry rolled into the harbor, but there was no one there to meet it.  As I waited around, I thought about how these guided visits were only on the Japanese page of the Art Base website. Non-Japanese speakers would have no idea they even existed. A policy far different from the usual open nature to the organizers on other islands.  Granted they were independent and not affiliated with Benessee, but this soft racism left me with mixed feelings.  I suppose it was one way to protect themselves from the onslaught experienced at other sites during this decade of overtourism.    

Having been given no real instructions in any language, I backtracked to the Art Base, met the organizers, and settled into lunch.  We were allowed 90 minutes to eat and to explore the art works within the old school, before we'd regroup and be led around to a pair of remote sites.  I ate alone at a picnic table out on the deck, finishing in about ten minutes.  The exhibits by Yukinori Yanagi within similarly took little time.  "Wandering Mickey" had the iconic mouse sitting in a race car inside what was essentially a hamster wheel, in a room whose walls were lined with oil drums.  I found what could have possible been their contents up on the third floor, its still, dark surface reflecting the sky and the trees outside. Thinking it to be a plastic surface, I placed my hand on what I expected to be solid, only to come away with a hand caked with black.  Thank god I hadn't sat down.  After visiting a couple of other exhibits (each leaving me with a feeling of, "Oh that's pretty cool," but with little desire to do any deep examination), I washed my hand in the rest room, which I found to be the most interesting of all, with ample greenery growing from the porcelain.           

I had originally planned to take a late-afternoon ferry back to Onomichi, but I noticed that I could probably catch the earlier one that left in 45 minutes.  There was still over an hour to go before we were meant to regroup for the tour of the remote sites. I explained my situation to the office and asked whether I could visit those on my own.  Thus given permission, I raced away.  

I moved quickly through the village to the first site, which was within an old cinema, a surprise find on a island of this small size.  The projectors were still visible in the back room, and in the seat of the main hall itself, all the seats but three had been torn out to open more space to in order to provide more visual impact for the upper half of a Japanese hinomaru flag made of steel and reflected in a pool of slag to bring it into its usual full form.   After a long absence, films were still screened here, usually on the fiftieth anniversary of the original screening dates in this now 60 year old theater.

The other site was around the hill and back down toward the harbor.  It was a lovely old house, named for the giant Goemon cauldron bath outside.  These baths were once a feature in older Japanese rural homes, and named for a bandit who had been boiled alive in one.  The house had been gutted but for the wooden beams and frames, and in what had once been the living room was mounted a massive machine gun, the floor beneath piled high with shells.  The political implication of this, and all the exhibits, were obvious and strong, and I could better see the Art Base's independence from its bigger corporate brother across the water.   

And it was in that direction I went.  I rode the slower ferry this time, an older hulk that disappointed in having very few chairs out on deck, and what few were there were directly in the line of fire from the exhaust pipes.  It took a pair of beers to wash the taste from my mouth, enjoyed while sitting out on the boardwalk beside hotel U2.  I had booked a room at the main location this time, a funky-functional cube of modest size but very cozy and private.  And even here on the mainland island time continued, in the passage of the feet of strolling couples, or the whirl of bicycle wheels, or the boats large and small, which lumbered by in a race with the setting sun. 

The last of these, the Guntu, cast a large shadow from its hefty mass, like a Twain-era steamboat camouflaged in battleship grey.  The cruise ship's equally hefty price tag runs almost contrary in spirit to its preferred mode of travel, which is to meander almost aimlessly between the islands, in wide circuitous arcs.  I liked the designer's ideology of providing a means of forgetting the passage of time.  It was a far cry from my method of trying to link up the linearity of train and boat schedules.  One could well appreciate Guntu's well-choreographed aimless drift, as if at the mercy of wind and tide, like the mariners of old. 

On the turntable:  Phish, "1994-10-31, Glens Falls, NY" 


Sunday, October 30, 2022

Sunday Papers: Gore Vidal

"It makes no difference who you vote for — the two parties are really one party representing four percent of the people.""

On the turntable:  The Alarm, "History Repeating 1981-2021"

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

The Super Parisian



Finale in a trilogy of posts, over at the French blog.

On the turntable:  Phish, "Baker's Dozen"


Wednesday, September 28, 2022

C'est la Guerre


Another post, over at the French blog.


On the turntable:  Rufus Wainwright, "Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall" 


Sunday, September 18, 2022

Sunday Papers: Martin Buber


"Never think of men except in terms of those specific individuals whose names you know." 

On the turntable: Roxy Music, "Siren"