Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sentimental Journey

Drove south, zigzagging in and out of Vermont's Green Mountains. Much cooler today. The trees ripe in color after last night's storm. Nostalgic autumn sights and smells. A family playing horseshoes beside a lake. A maze cut through a cornfield. A brother and sister race to grab the best pumpkin.

At dusk, a walk in the forest near some wetlands, hoping to see moose.

Autumn in New England. There's no other place I'd rather be right now.

On the turntable: Tosca, "Delhi 9"
On the nighttable: Whit Stillman, "The Last Days of Disco"

Friday, September 28, 2007


And now again, back in the States, basking in the cusp of autumn, brought on by a late afternoon Vermont thunderstorm.

On the plane over, I was for some reason upgraded to sit in the jumpseats usually reserved for the flight crew. I shared them only on takeoff and landing, with a Taiwanese beauty who kept up enough of a steady banter to keep my eyes and my mind off the usual pendulum swing between awe at the view and sheer terror at the unconceivable physics of flight. Connect in Chicago to board a plane next to a Korean student with long eyelashes and the fresh smell of PlayDoh. Land in Indianapolis's surprisingly progressive airport, with massage chairs and a kiosk selling Rosetta Stone language courses right in the terminal. As usual, I spent my first few hours thinking how fucked up everybody was. But I admit that my research was skewed since most of that time was spent in airports. And air travel brings out the absolute worst in absolutely everyone, in both the cattle and the cattle drivers. My uncharitable first impressions tend to go away quickly and are always the result of the fog which could be jetlag, but could also be a survival mechanism to deal with the sudden sensory overload, overhearing the syllables of my native tongue and my eyes drawn to shapes and letters which I can actually read.

In late 2003, I'd returned to the States for the first time after nearly 3 years away, trying to reassemble my world after the death of my son. While trying to reconnect with my own heart and soul, I'd returned to the source, an attempt at acquiring wisdom from the land of my birth. I sought it out on long train and bus rides, while wandering its cities, while flipping thru the pages of its recent novels. I never even came close to finding it since the country at that time, 9 months into the Iraq debacle, was a nation adverse to communication of any kind. Forget about emoting.
Ironically I find that heart now, in the book I was just reading, in Richard Ford's "Lay of the Land." Had it been published back then, I needn't have looked further. It is almost a thesis on fin de siecle America in 2000, yet in many ways I still feel the G forces from the continuous spiral. Here in Ford's insight seems to be the pulse of the America I have since rediscovered, a pulse beating with the blood of everyone whom I make contact.

I make my way to the religious center of the nation, to the mall. I get nearly all my hair chopped off as a sort of flight of passage into a new decade. In the chair, I sit and listen to all the hairdresser banter, reminding me of the dialogue from the film "Waitress, " itself seemingly the "Steel Magnolias" of the current generation. I think that there are few chances of long term love in a hair salon, where if a handsome man comes in at all, he won't return for at least a month or two. My hair was cut by an young woman who's absence of smile reflected possible love problems of her own. After a while we started to chat, and it turned out she had learned Japanese in high school. This town may be small but the world is far smaller.

I later meet a true speaker of Japanese, Eriko, who I married to Marty in my role as a minister. A group of us have pizza and beer on the patio of their beautiful new house, while my brother Eric sneaks out to the car to check the football scores. Flat-bottom boats cruise the perimeter of the lake on this, the autumnal equinox. In honor of the balance, of the equality, I spend one day indoors watching two films brilliant in the use of violence as art--"28 Days Later" and "Sin City." Another day is spent in the sun, at the park where Columbus Indiana is having it's first folk fest. Dave and I at first laugh at the fact that the town's three hippies are in the crowd (including himself in fact) and later begin a rambling conversation about psychology that expands to well over three hours, long after the beer and smoothies have run out.

On the flight to Vermont I change planes in Cleveland, which I honor with a "Spinal Tap" reference. Here in the heart of Rock 'n 'Roll, we are force fed country music and bad pop through the airport's sound system.
On the final approach to Burlington, the mountains below dazzle. A lone lake rests high in the peaks. They're smaller and much more welcoming than the snow-capped monsters of Montana and Idaho I'd seen a few days before. Off the wing, I see the fort where Ben and I basked in the warm sun on summer solstice. Time's flight needs no wings...

On the turntable: Matthew Sweet, "Altered Beast"
On the nighttable: Nicholas Shakespeare, "Bruce Chatwin: A Biography"

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Stand Still Laddy!

I can't finish talking about my US trip until I tell the story of one bizarre thing that happened there. Well half of it happened there. The other half occured after getting back here to Japan. in a single month, I had the unpleasant experience of having to renew my driver's licenses in both countries. I'd expected the US variation to go far smoother. In my small town it's basically a process of eye check, photo, hand over ten bucks and you're set for 8 more years. But on his day there was a glitch. It seems that an updated computer system had found an outstanding warrant from Arizona, a place I haven't lived in since university finished in the long hot summer of '90. I'd never gotten any moving violations but over my last couple years there I'd gotten about 17 parking tickets on campus, which in the wisdom of youth I'd ignored until the University had threatened to withhold my diploma. I paid, or so I thought.
I called the State DMV but they couldn't find anything. Then I called the county--same result. City of Tucson likewise had no records of anything. With each of the people I talked to, I politely and patiently explained that I was only in country for a short time and ideally needed this cleared up by 4 pm today. Each of them promised to look into it and let me know. The whole process ate up the morning.
A few hours later, I got a call from the county. They found a citation from 1989 in the amount of $10. How can I pay? Don't worry, it's been cleared. Cool. OK, so can I have you guys fax that over to Belen? No problem. After about 15 minutes, I call Belen DMV to check if they got the fax. A woman informs me that she it isn't proper policy. Shit. I ask to talk to her supervisor. He's left for the day. Right, it's Friday afternoon. I ask her to please call him, which she says she'll do, but doesn't promise anything. Later, around 3:30, the supervisor calls. He tells me he's not showing any violation on the computer at all. Come down for your photo. As they are taking it he asks me how I did it. Arizona usually takes a couple months to do what I did in 5 hours. I shrug and walk out to the car, my new license warm in my pocket.

Japan, 2 weeks later. I'd long ago received a postcard telling me where and when to show up. The place was inconveniently in the middle of nowhere, south Kyoto, well away from the bus and train lines and we had to show up between 1 and 2 pm. . There was a huge queue of people stretched out the door and shuffling slowly toward the first window. Some workers were actually standing in front of doorways to tell the queue not to block it. Mind the tape on the floor please. We reached window one. Then two. Three. Work our way slowly along. I half expected window 6 to lead to a huge meat grinder out of the film, "The Wall." After an hour, finally cleared. I find a room, where I have to sit thru a 2 hour film. I find the moderator outside having a smoke. I do what I never do, pull the gaijin trump card. I say, "Look, do I really have to sit thru this? I probably won't understand most of it (a fib) and it's not really my first license. After all, I've been driving for 25 years already." No luck, as expected. Time means little to a man who smokes. So I find a spot in the back near the window. Once the film starts, I'll pull out my book and read by the small strip of sunlight bisecting the curtains. Then I notice that I have an assigned seat, right in the middle, directly in front of the moderator. My book stays at the bottom of my bag. I guess this film and lecture will be good listening practice for my Japanese language course which begins next week. The film starts...

In terms of time wasted, it was a draw. But there was almost a stereotypically predictable outcome. My experience in the US was a volitional greasing of bureaucracy's wheels with honey, yet constantly pushing, pushing, pushing. The Japanese sequel by contrast was passive. Stand in line, mind the tape, and try not to hit your head getting into the meat grinder...

On the turntable: Elton John, "Captain Fantastic"

Friday, September 21, 2007

US Notes (July flashback edition)

Miki and I spent a few mellow days at my mom's place in Belen, watching films, eating good spicy food, and simply sitting out back in the dark, staring at the stars and sky. One day we took the train up to Albuquerque, wandering downtown and visiting galleries in Old Town. The train was a new thing, having started running a month before and it was a treat to take good efficient public transportation in the States. Another evening we had dinner at Maggie's, while the cottonwoods outside burst into a snowstorm.

I wanted to take Miki to places special to me, so we drove up to Sandia Peak and walked along the crest to the Kiwannis cabin. After finishing university, I used to spend whole days here, reading all my literary giants and writing in my journal, fancying myself one of 'em. This was nearly twenty years ago, before "the outdoors" was a hot commodity, and fewer people went out there. Miki and I sat awhile and looked out over the city and at the clouds playing hide and seek with the lesser peaks out west. Before we left, Miki threw her mala down the cliff face. I'd bought the beads in India for her, but they'd broken a few days before, and she had wanted to return them to nature somewhere. I joked about how in a 100 years, some hiker would find them, and turn them in to an anthropologist at UNM, who'd write a thesis about pre-historic contact between the local tribes and southern Indian Carnatic kingdoms. Truly a history-making day, coupled by the fact that Miki went up the hill a girlfriend and came down a fiancee.

Later, we drove out to Acoma Sky City. We were forced to join a tour, which was quite militant about photos. Fair enough. Our guide Fred had a funny way of speaking his native language, using his whole body. He'd twist and bend slightly as he forced out the more complicated contortions of syllables, as if this language was learned and not innate. We spent a good part of an hour up there, following a drumming shaman along the dusty paths between abode homes, while a heavy monsoon poured down literally just off the mesa. Somehow we were untouched. Just like last time, lightning danced around me as I walked the sacred land of the Acoma.

At the end of our time in Belen, we drove north. After a quick stop in Santa Fe to take yoga with Tias, we continued on to Taos for my niece's 6th birthday. My sister and her boys were already standing around the grill, waiting for my brother to cook the Brats and veggie dogs. Later, we went out to Kimberley's place for pizza, the sun setting over the nearby ski area peaks. It was a mellow day, a vibe no doubt shared by the people attending the Taos Music Festival at that moment wrapping up back in town. The next day we all had a long breakfast, and then a stroll around the plaza. I'd see Kurt and Brigid in Boulder in a few days, but said goodbye to my mom, sister, and nephews. As always, I wasn't sure when we'd see each other again. Miki and I went out to Taos Pueblo, which had changed incredibly since I'd last been there 10 years ago. The admission fee was huge, coupled with a surcharge for photographers. On my previous visit, this place had been little more than a village, but today I noticed that half the homes had been turned into galleries, with the owners/residents selling paintings, clothes, and pots. With every trip to the States, I'm further and further awed by how deep the tendrils of materialism stretch. To see the ever growing commercialism was shocking, though I suppose that since countercultures are quick to be commodified, why not cultures themselves? I don't really known the details behind why a group would sell out so completely, but based on this region's history, I'm inclined to believe that they were forced to. Sad.

We drove south. A short detour to Santuario de Chimayo to look upon the crutches hanging on the wall and wash our hands with the sacred healing earth within. West then, out to Abiquiu, to walk the groomed paths and labyrinth of Georgia O'Keefe's Ghost Ranch. Nearby we found a turnoff and took the long dirt road out to the Church of Christ in the Desert. This one-lane road ran along a beautiful stretch of river feeding a green swath though the desert. We found the monastery at the road's end, its tall chapel of stone and glass a puzzle piece fit to a huge scar in the mesa face behind. It was a very quiet place. Walking the grounds we met Brother Timothy, who is in charge here. He was a kind and peaceful man quick to laugh and he encouraged us to come back sometime and bathe in the quiet of the place. Miki and I kept up the silence on the drive back, a slower pace than the drive out. I kept an eye on the storm clouds marking the horizon, hoping we'd be back on blacktop before the monsoon hit. The weather held, so we followed a different dirt road past the mosque to Piazza Bianco, an incredible group of rock spires made of sheer white sandstone. We walked around in the soft sand awhile, enveloped in silence as we watched these frail spires turn pink in the setting sun.

The next few days we spent in Santa Fe, wandering the Plaza and the galleries of Canyon Road, splitting our meals between cheap-ish cafes and take away from Whole Foods. One morning we went out to Bandelier, climbing around the Anasazi ruins and walking the trails. A few deer grazed just off the trail, and a small bear was being herded back into the hills by the rangers. This bear, being still quite young, seemed to be a little too used to humans. We followed it awhile, then went back to town.

On the third day we drove north, the pavement giving away just past Ojo Caliente. This road was right out of the Aussie Outback, long and straight, with the occasional huge truck looming up to kick stones at us as we passed. San Antonio Mountain guarded the border, its gentle grassy slopes stretching up to blue sky. An old SL train pulled across our path on it's way to Cumbres. Through the flatlands of southern Colorado, running parallel to the lesser Rockies that shelters the sand dunes and sacred Crestone and perhaps even UFOs. The mountains caught us, and we wound through valleys of rushing water overrun by day-trippers enjoying this, the 4th of July. Under the shadow of Red Rocks, to meet Kerouac's Rte 6 at Golden, then down through Nederland's canyon and into Boulder itself. Here we'd spend a few days.

In Boulder, we mostly chilled out with my brother and his daughter, long nights spent dining on his balcony, shaded by the nearby peaks, and watching the lightning out in the distance. One night while walking around a small lake, we got caught in a heavy storm, and had to take shelter in a playground. A few days later, we were caught in another storm while hiking higher-up in the Rockies themselves. I'd never got caught out like this before, and it was terrifying to huddle under a closely-spaced cluster of trees, quickly becoming a true believer in statistics. Another day Miki and I hiked up the notorious trail known locally as "Stairmaster." We lost the trail coming down, and instead took a quick descent down a deer trail which followed a small dry creekbed. Everyone later told us how crazy we were to attempt this in our sandals. In hindsight, I agree. Another day we went to the flea market. I ran into Clarke, the guy who ran my study tour to Bhutan 4 years ago. Other days we spent playing with Brigid at Naropa or CU or on Pearl Street Mall, before meeting up with my brother for good beer and food at random cafes around town. Boulder in the summer truly is a magic place.

The last couple days in country were spent in San Francisco, as usual. I hadn't realized it, but we arrived the day before the All Star game, and baseball furies were everywhere. We dropped our bags at CLo's office which was a block from the baseball Stadium. We quickly left this chaos for the relative quiet of North Beach for pizza and obligatory City Lights browse and Trieste capp. Up to Coit Tower, then down to the waterfront, eventually meeting CLo downtown later for dinner.

The next morning we had a quick breakfast at a local cafe in Potraro Hill, then walked down into the Mission, up Valencia, through the Castro, up and over Corona Heights, then along Height to the Park, hitting all my 'spots' on the way. Miki and I read and played Battleship in a small cafe, sat atop the Corona Heights rocks for the view, had falafel in a Height coop. We continued west through the Park, past the freaks sunning themselves not far from where the posh people played tennis. One guy walked up to me and said cheerfully, "You look like a man who could use some nuggets." Since CLo works in the art world, he got us free passes to the DeYoung museum. We spent the better part of the afternoon here, completely floored by the Oceanic art, later recouping out back in the Turrell sculpture. We walked on, eventually arriving at the windmills and the sea. I dunked my feet in the ocean, as I did a few weeks before in Maine. We had a celebratory beer in a restaurant by the sea. CLo picked us up and we drove up to the Sutro Baths to walk the caves and watch the seabirds trace the coastline. This long day ended perfectly with take-away tacos from the Mission.

The next morning, we'd go back to Japan...

On the turntable: "Asia Lounge"
On the nighttable: Richard Ford, "The Lay of the Land"

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunday papers: Natalie Goldberg

"We should learn to talk, not with judgement, greed, or envy, but with compassion, wonder, and amazement."

On the turntable: The Band, "Across the Great Divide"

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Wow! I never knew what a great magician the former PM was! Last month, he made the LDP's half century domination of the Upper House suddenly vanish. And earlier this week, he made himself disappear.
I wonder what his next trick will be. I hope it has something to do with Aso...

On the turntable: An electoral koan. What is the sound of one nation clapping?

Friday, September 14, 2007

I am a Camera

When I was in high school, I had wanted to be a film director. I applied to, and was accepted by, USC. In order to save money, I decided to go to University of Arizona for 2 or 3 semesters, then transfer. Somewhere along the way, I grew disillusioned with film studies programs, the camel's back breaking during a course which considered Blake Edwards to be one of America's greats. I soon changed to creative writing. However, film wasn't finished with me. I was lucky enough to be in U2's "Rattle and Hum" (look for me, I'm the small figure in the back singing and clapping), and "Firebirds," a Top Gun-ripoff with all the flight of the turkey the film turned out to be. More so than my (nothing ) role as a helicopter pilot, the true highlight for me was all the free food, as this was during my poorest of college days. This latter film turned me off Hollywood for good. To quote Flavor Flav, "Yo, fuck Hollywood man."

Film didn't seem to want to leave me alone. A UCSB course in "Literature and Film" almost inspired me to consider grad school there, but this was in 1991 and the height of PC attacking free-speech in a way that would've made Joseph McCarthy proud. I decided instead to go to Japan.

But film doesn't seem to be done with me. In the 'Nog, I helped with the music on a documentary my friends made about vending machines. Ten years ago, while living in Hong Kong, I attempted a make money as an extra. This was at the height on Japan's late 90's indie film boom, and I'd hoped to come back to Tokyo and find work somewhere. Yet my experiences on the set frustrated me, to see the slimy way that actors tried to instill favor with agents and producers. On the set of a film I did, I literally cringed as I eavesdropped on one guy on the phone. My season in Hong Kong soured me both on film and living in big cities.

Yet film has regrouped and made a full assault again. This current wave started two years ago when I went to visit Cath while she was doing film school in London. A couple weeks of film-laden conversations segued into a few days in Paris visiting a friend who is becoming something of a legend as a producer. My first night in town saw a rambling dinner at a bistro with a handful of major names in the French film world. This time I seem hooked.

Coming back to Japan, I started buying DVDs of some of the world's greatest directors, and watch 3 or 4 a week. It's begun to affect the way I see things. I've said before how I've grown sensitive to the quality of light. From time to time, I also notice myself mesmerized by a landscape, or the multiple layers of motion framed by my eyes.

All the above serves as an introduction. For on Monday, I finally scored a trifecta. I was in my first Japanese film. I got a bit part as a student in Kyoto language school. There was the usual obligatory waiting, but the shot was done in a mere two takes. The most interesting part was seeing the subtle cultural differences in how a film crew sets up a shot. Not sure what the finished product will be like, but it was good fun being on the set.

Next stop: Bollywood!

On the turntable: The Byrds, "Fillmore West 1969"

Thursday, September 13, 2007

So Many Roads

In the shadow of Togetsu-kyo we eat soft cream, not far from where the well-dressed Chinese tourists take photos in front of that stone poem by Zhou Enlai. The trail up Matsuo-san is narrow and hard to find, leading up between two decaying houses that must've been gorgeous in another century. The initial ascent is steep and tough, not switchbacks but a lot of up. A man in his eighties pulls edible weeds from the hillside and puts them in the basket on his back. We stop to watch a centipede cross the trail and he overtakes us. Pretty spry for his age. Though we pass him again, he remains pretty close behind. We rest and drink tea at a small junction, then follow the loop trail up to the summit. There's an overlook partway up, where we find a bearded artist type listening to a ball game on his small radio. We look out over Western Kyoto, picking out landmarks. We've spent most of this year hiking the east side of town and it' s slightly disorientating to see things from the opposite side. Like looking at the back of a filmset. We find at the top a marker and a hollowed out animal cave. Down then into a valley, then begin to climb again. Halfway up, we meet a guy wearing a workweek shirt and tie, carrying a briefcase and slipping slightly in his dress shoes. It's Sunday. When he's out of earshot I say to Miki, "I pray we don't find the body of a young woman." The final decent ends at a small river. I dunk my head in, in the shadow of the small bicycles of boys frolicking somewhere further upstream.

On the turntable: Bright Eyes, "Lua"

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Higher and Higher

Listening to John Birks blow,
I wonder aloud,
"Say, Diz, how far you wanna go?"

On the turntable: Charlie Parker, "Complete Savoy Live Performances"
On the nighttable: Victoria Riccardi, "Untangling my Chopsticks"

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Full Moon Late July

Going up to Kurama-dera to watch the moon rise out of the valley below.
There was still room enough left in the sky for a few shooting stars.

On the turntable: U2, "Boy"

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Sunday papers: Neils Bohr

"Your theory is crazy, but it's not crazy enough to be true."

(Thanks to J for this one...)

On the turntable: Bob Dylan, "World Gone Wrong"

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Beat Goes On

I had just finished typing the last post to come downstairs and find the postman had brought me the latest edition of Coyote Magazine. This particular issue is a special feature on Paul Auster. Weird.

On the turntable: Takeshi Hirayasu and Bob Brozman, "Jin Jin/ Firefly"
On the nighttable: Natalie Goldberg, "Writing Down the Bones"

Friday, September 07, 2007

Slow down! Or read some Murakami. Or Auster

Life moves pretty fast. But if you don't slow down you won't notice...
I mentioned last week my desire to slow things down and reestablish a connection with the world around me. And I believe I've had some success, due to the fact that I've being reintroduced to Serendipity again. If you spend your days rushing from one bit of internal mental sludge to another, the wonder of her beauty will pass you by. For instance:

I'm walking an Osaka street, looking for the place where the film fest is being held. It's called Planet...something. So I walk, singing to myself that B52's song, "Planet Claire." I find the theater, right next to a athletic field called, Claire.

One of the films I saw, "Doubles" was scored by Yamashita Yosuke, who I'd seen at EC a week before.

My friend gives me a CD of Latin Music. Two songs are by Matsuda Mio, again, who I'd just seen at EC.

Meeting new people at a party, then seeing them the next morning in photos on a completely different person's blog.

Seeing two gigs a week apart and finding the drummer for both bands is the same guy.

I suppose you can say that these kinds of things aren't so unusual in the fishbowl of the Kyo, or the larger fishbowl of Japan. But don't you think that fish, with their short memories, are also prone to coincidence, as they circle the bowl again and again, going, "Whoa! Deja Vu!"

On the turntable: Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains, "The Catalyst - Santa Cruz, CA 11/01/04"

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

One more Saturday night

Last weekend I finally made it to a show at Honen-in. Wind Travelling Band was playing their mellow blend of wind and percussion. It was wonderful to sit on the veranda of the temple with feet dangling onto the moss, looking out at a garden not usually open to the public. Somewhere out in the darkness rang the hollow sound of the shishiodoshi, blending with the percussion, sometimes on the beat, sometimes off. Dragonflies kept up a constant buzzing of the stage, no doubt intrigued by the source of all the pleasant vibrations. Outside on the veranda, a woman in a sack dress contorted in spiralling butoh movements, arms writing sōsho in the air. What in particular inspired these movements? What subtlety in melody caused the shift from right to left, the slow, twisting body drop, the sudden tilt of the head? My eyes stayed with her awhile, until the music took me to my own mysterious places.

On the turntable: McCoy Tyner, "Enlightenment"
On the nighttable: John Banvile, "The Sea"

Monday, September 03, 2007

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Sunday papers: Shinoda Masahiro

"If a woman wearing a miniskirt were to stand up in sight of Ozu's low angle camera, he'd be arrested for indecency."

On the turntable: Bob Dylan, "The Genuine Basement Tapes"
On the nighttable: A.B. Mitford, "Tales of Old Japan"