Friday, November 30, 2007

Ceci n'est pas une gripe

From Campbell, "It is the predicament of the neurotic that he translates everything into the terms of infantile sexuality; but if the doctor does so too, then where do we get?"

After a century of Freudian psychology grounding the self in the lower, primal, animalistic states of existence, is it any wonder the West dictates value in terms of sex and glory, wealth and fame?

On the turntable: McCoy Tyner, "Inception"
On the nighttable: Joseph Campbell, "Primitive Mythology"

Friday, November 16, 2007

(Workin') On the Road Again

A mere two days after coming back to Kyoto, I was on the move again. Ezaki Mitsuru was again in need of people to help fire his kiln. Figuring that working 'round the clock would be a sure fire way to beat jetlag, off we went.

So it was that three weeks to the day after saying, "Mata ne!" to the Atlantic, a week to the day after saying "Hello" to the Pacific, I crossed a bridge which brought the Nihonkai into view, reminding me of Ray Carver and his "so much water so close to home." (I'm going to stick with the term, 'Nihonkai,' not wanting to take sides in the playground spat over Japan Sea and East Sea. Maybe they should just call it, "The Sea that Divides.") The men in blue flared trousers were still hard at work fixing the road damaged in the Spring quake. When I'd come up here in May, there had been only three or four spots which had collapsed into rice fields below. Today new sections were being laid down in huge kilometer-long swaths, and the traffic delays were worse than they'd been 6 months before. Unlike the American solution of a band-aid on an amputation, here it's more of a heart transplant to treat high blood pressure. I think I get it now. The puppets in the Ministry of Construction must see natural disasters as gifts from the kami. Behind them, their construction industry master rub their hands with glee.

Anyway, Ezaki's works that we helped cook are currently on display in Tokyo. Check it out:

On the turntable: "Anthology of American Folk Music"
On the nighttable: W.S. Maugham, "Far Eastern Tales"

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Autumn Nocturne

I can't finish writing on my US trip without mentioning the music. Road trips require good tunes, a tradition dating back to those settlers who boogied to the percussive clip-clop of horse footfalls.

The backroads of Vermont, miles ticked off by gentle guitar chords. Bonny "Prince' Billy, Elliott Smith, and Bright Eyes played heavily here.

Massachussetts was all Led Zeppelin.

In New York, my iPod was heavy with late 70s punk and New Wave. The Ramones were a big fave. The history of music is chock full o' songs bearing the city's name, and I mined my folders for these. Michael's nouveau Japhy Ryder bungalow rang out with the voice of Lou Reed, first the obligatory New York and later with Magic and Loss, this latter having special resonance for my new friend. I'd forgotten just how incredibly dark that album is. As Spinal Tap says, "There is none more black." Later on a street corner in the Village, we heard Joe Walsh's "In the City" playing in some shop. But nothing, nothing, sounds better for a late night stroll of Manhattan boulevards than Moby at high volume.

Arcadian coast of Maine and Atlantic Provinces were predominately Celtic. Quebec tunes sung in French.

The nature of Phoenix Rising tends to pull me skyward, so at lunchtime I'd blast hardcore, a sort of sonic pair of heavy soled boots to keep my feet on the ground. Tapping.

Pickin' and grinnin' along the windy coast of Big Sur and Carmel with folk and bluegrass.

And finally, as is custom, at that moment where the journey is done and centrifugal force pulls me out of the U-turn toward home: Cornershop's, "Good to be on the Road Back Home Again."
A must.

On the turntable: Sting, "The Dream of the Blue Turtles"
On the nighttable: Wolf Lowenthal, "Like a Long River"

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Rounding Third and...

After I left Montreal, it was if someone hit the Fast Forward button, and the next two weeks passed at great speed. Montreal is only a couple hours to Vermont, but in this narrow strip I met a girl who had no English and spoke French in a dialect which made no sense to me whatsoever. My next encounter went little better. The official at the border crossing with New York state was a true prick, a real standout in his profession. The way he sneered at my having been in Canada was filled with a malice toward any American who had the nerve to want to leave his fine land. I thought about how the first impression most foreigners have of the US is formed while dealing with guys like him. Little wonder we are so hated abroad. A beer and a walk in Burlington did well to calm me.

That night began my 5th and final week in Bristol. I felt I edged down what felt like two paths superimposed on one another: one of much-needed technical PRYT training, the other an intensely personal journey of pain and self-discovery. Elizabeth Gilbert's book weaved in and out, making up my nighttime reading and lending bits of wisdom eerily related to what I was experiencing during the day. I finished the week drained but strangely elated. During the downtime, I took my seat at the bar of the Bobcat or in one of the Adirondack chairs out front of the bakery, my face turned toward the sun rising over the hills at the end of Main Street.

My five weeks in the East came to an end on a clear day when I flew down to Raleigh. My plane looked down on the magnificent colors below, giving way to mountain ranges further south, laid out in parallel rows like berms. The next few days were spent at the house of my sister and her family. I have bad luck with the weather in Raleigh, and this town which had been facing severe drought got a third of its needed rain in five days of thunderstorms which oddly reflected the ice storms of my previous visit. I only left the house twice. Pete had scored center-ice, fourth row tickets for a Carolina rout of the Buffalo Sabres. This was pure Americana for me--a high speed, in-your-face event where the potential for violence was imminent. Not being a hockey fan, and holding no familiarity to the local team, I had a moment where I shut down completely due to lack of a fixed reference. This happens sometimes when I go back to the States, a reminder that being Lost in Translation can also work in reverse. Oddly enough the reference I did have (besides the end-of-empire, Roman bloodlust, crowd mentality thing) was that I followed the action in how I related it to soccer. Which just goes to show just how internationalized this lifelong basketball fan has become.

The next morning Meghan and I had breakfast in the brick downtown of Raleigh. It was the total Southern package, grits and bad coffee served up by waitresses who call you "Hon." Around an adjacent table, four suited (no seersuckers unfortunately) bigwigs were having a power brekkie, casually going over the day's biz, before reworking it back at the office. One guy was a figure of incredible girth, and another had a thick growth of bangs which hung down his face like a beaver's tail. A hundred Southern book- and film-characters danced in my mind.

I spent the last weekend in Monterey with Ben-chan. The flight over looked down on the Sierra's covered with fresh snow, bringing me full circle to May and those same peaks slowly going topless for summer. On the drive down from SFO, I took the wrong exit, leading me up over a high pass to startle a deer on the side of the road, waiting to cross. The next day, Ben and I drove down to Big Sur, stopping in at the Henry Miller library and for a quick peek at Esalen. We also got in a couple hikes, one up above the redwoods onto trails lined with mesquite and poison oak. Another trail led through high grass to a beach of stones, driftwood, and kelp strands thick as bungee cords. Sunday, we alternately biked along the shore to a popular surf break, then back through Cannery Row. Commercialism has whitewashed the place, making it now unrecognizable from Steinbeck books or my last visit 21 yeas back. The history is completely gone, the factories serving little purpose but to bilk tourist dollars. May as well call it Chicanery row now. Downtown Monterey was nicer, rust-colored tiles over bleached Spanish walls. Though I rarely miss Santa Barbara, being back on the Central Coast made me frequently reminisce about my three years there. A nice warm-fuzzy ending to a long, meandering year of journeys.

Once again I found myself on a plane. Once again I lost a day. The train took me through Osaka, all bright and neon and looking quite CG after the truer colors of New England autumn. (How much nicer to re-enter this hideously ugly city at night!) This train took me to Paul and Marla's three hour yoga workshop, which I somehow survived despite my ragged condition. But like all the other days, I always know that there's a warm bed at the end, even if I don't know where that bed is.
Good night.

On the turntable: The Replacements, "All Shook Down"
On the nighttable: Mo Yan, "Big Breasts and Wide Hips"