Monday, March 31, 2008

My favorite joke

Descartes is on an airplane.  A flight attendant asks him, "Would you like a drink?"
Descartes says, "I think not."
And disappears.

Happy birthday, Rene, you silly deluded fou!

On the turntable:  Bill Laswell, "ROIR Dub Sessions"
On the reel table:  "Raiders of the Lost Ark"  (Spielberg, 1981)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

This week in Kyoto...

Terra Gallery, Nijo/Teramachi.

On the turntable: The Beatles, "Rubber Soul"
On the reel table: "I am my Films" (Herzog, 1978)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Trainline Hiking

Sunday came around once again. The word Sunday most often serves as a synonym for hiking, yet today I didn't like the look of the sky. It wasn't raining, but the clouds were just daring me to make plans. So I did that other synonym for Sunday, which is sit on the sofa with tea and book. Somewhere along the way, an idea nudged it's way between sentences.

So Miki and I biked down the hill to the train station. This being March 23, or 3-23, we bought a ticket for close to that sum, which was 320 yen, and got off at the corresponding station for a day of unadulterated ambulation.

Now it's your turn. Go forth and roll, wander, swan, stray, tramp, roam, cast, ramble, rove, range, drift, vagabond! Just do me one better by not forgetting your camera...

On the turntable: "The Complete Stax-Volt Singles 1959-1968"

On the reel table: "The Scarlet Letter" (Wenders, 1973)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ghosts on the Road

The weather gods bestowed on us a perfect day of 19°C, so Miki and I put on our best shoes and set off for the San-in do. It starts from the old pleasure quarter of Shimabara, where a small gate poked a hole through Hideyoshi's protective Odoi wall. We followed Shichijo-dori west through Katsura and beyond. It was a long 14km slog along busy roads and the only time our feet left concrete was when we'd duck into a shrine, those rest areas of the gods. The worst part was over a pass into Kameoka, walking on Route 9, with it's busy Sunday traffic. We moved quickly and nervously along a shoulder so narrow that it hardly deserves the name, my own being far broader. Walking into a rapidly setting sun, which blinded drivers who'd barely see us as centrifugal force pulled them toward us on curves. Atop the pass, we sat at a shrine and ate dried coconut, our nerves shot. Besides the shrine, there was nothing around but a dead decaying village, a few moldy love hotels, and two new cemeteries, most likely filled with people foolish enough to have attempted this same walk.

But I'm not here today to tell you about that. On the far western outskirts of Katsura, where the city meets the hills, we saw a mentally handicapped teenager driving a train. In his mind anyway. He had the hand gestures down and was creating his own sound effects. It was right out of Do'des'ka'den. Seeing me, he came to chat about the trees, forecasting the buds soon to come. He followed us, but Miki and I, fearful of him being in traffic, sped up a bit. We soon came up to a sign telling us that 150 years back, three rebellious Choshu samurai had been overtaken and killed on this spot. We moved into the forest to where their graves quietly lay. There were no flowers, but the stain of candle wax on the stones told of how the villagers, whose ancestors had killed these same men, had since adopted them. And as we pondered this, and the large black crow lurking about, our friend rode up in his train. He kept saying, "O-Samurai-san," his hands taking the hilt of a sword that only he could see. As Miki and I looked at some of the other ancient stones on this small hill, he began to clean the graves, and this was where we left him.

On the turntable: Krishna Das, "Breath of the Heart"
On the reel table: "The Darjeeling Limited" (Anderson, 2007)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Opening Day

Now, I've been a Yankees fan from way back.  That '78 one game playoff against the Sox was one of the best parts of the highlight reel that is my childhood.  But imagine my shock when I was in New York last fall, being told how Yankee Stadium was to be torn down to make way for a new ballpark in 2009. Then I hear the rumor that Steinbrenner is planning to sell the team.    He finally went too far this time, selling tradition to pad his retirement.  So, I decided to burn my own tradition to the ground.

Most of my family is from New England, and are die-hard Red Sox fans.  I found great joy in being up there last autumn, watching Boston go through their pennant drive and World Series win.  It's time to change sides.  To make it official, I've already given my Yankees cap and T-shirt to the homeless.

"Judas,"  you say?
"Go Sox!"  I say.

On the turntable:  Kronos Quartet and Asha Bhosle, "You've Stolen My Heart"
On the reel table:  "Kagemusha"  (Kurosawa, 1980)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunday papers: Graham Greene

"Any word one uses from habit means nothing at all"

--The Honorary Consul

On the turntable: Vangelis,"China"

Friday, March 21, 2008

How was your Friday?

My Friday was Good, not great.

This guy was having a pretty good day too...

More fishsticks?

On the turntable: "Ska Wars"
On the nighttable: Eric Schlosser, "Fast Food Nation"
On the reel table: "Early Spring" (Ozu, 1956)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Neglected emails,
Drift up my inbox
Like ghost ships

On the turntable: Kodo, "Mono-Prism"
On the reel table: "Sweeney Todd" (Burton, 2007)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


kerosene seller
makes his rounds
under 18 degree skies

On the turntable: Kimie, "Dragon Scales"
On the nighttable: Michael Hoffman, "The Coat that Covers Him"

Monday, March 17, 2008

Gumshoeing in Eire

Today is St. Pat's. If you say the title of this blog with a bad Irish accent, the last word sounds like "Nag." Which is horse. So, at the risk of beating a dead one, I thought I'd post an excerpt from my travel journals written while in Ireland in February 2005. I had gone out into the country in search of relatives who'd married in Maryborough in 1874. Maryborough now goes by the name Portlaois, a town best known for its insane asylum and prison...

Early the next morning, I headed for Portlaois. On the bus, the young couple who sat behind me looked pretty rough. I sat and looked out at the drab outer rings of Dublin lined with houses made of soda bread. Perhaps it was the heavy sky, or my sleepy eyes, but all looked desolate and lonely and I felt sick of travel. I should have been thrilled at my first sight of the Irish landscape, but instead I was unimpressed with the highway busy with trucks, and the bogs devoid of all but bare trees. Essentially, it looked like northern Indiana. Once off the highway, subtle aspects of the country's beauty began to appear, in the form of huge clovers lining a road at the edge of the forest. In Kildare, I giggled at the sign for the National Stud, picturing a suave guy with a nice pad. Beyond this, a couple open fields contained a surprising number of lambs. Two of them seemed betaken with a pig.

Minutes off the bus in Portlaois, I found myself at the Catholic Church where an Ash Wednesday mass was just beginning. I was hoping that this was where Brigid Comerford and Michael Dunne( my ancestors) had been married, therefore sharing a spiritual and temporal link. I queued for my ashes, then lingered around. For a 10a.m. mass on a weekday, it was pretty packed, including many students in uniform. I wondered how many people in here might be family. I lit a votive candle for Ken (my late son), then went to the sacristy to talk to the priest. I was worried he'd be too busy to talk and I kicked myself for forgetting that it was a church holiday. He seemed a nice guy, but rushed. He answered my questions in a three minute monologue, then brushed me off with a "Best of luck to you, Ted," Dougal-style. It wasn't rude. On the contrary, he dealt with my needs efficiently, yet lacking the time to ponder properly, he moved on. I liked the way he'd say something like, "Now go to the parish office, where Mary and Polly will look it all up on the computer." Personalized.
Back on the Street, I moved from the tourist office to library to court house to art center. I was looking for someone who knew local history, but everyone modestly recommended everyone else. I decided to stroll. At first, I didn't like the town much, a series of busy roads and shopping malls. (Including a health food store next to a butcher's, and a place called Abra-Kebab-ra.) Then behind this modern facade, I found the older center of town. Main Street was a cobblestone street of narrow sidewalks, shops, and pubs. Compared to England's rows of controlled uniformity, Ireland seems more organic, with varied structures of differing sizes. Smaller sized roads formed zigsaw puzzle shapes at the town center. I must've walked all the roads at least twice, past the ruins of two churches, past the beautiful stone train station, past the new Heritage Hotel (which had no heritage to speak of, but served as a nice metaphor for my day), past a WWI monument with a Private Dunne, past M. Dunnes' Grocery. There was a strong Chinese Connection here, with three restaurants all closed for the holiday. I'd seen a Chinese guy at mass this morning. Being both Ash Wednesday and Chinese New Year, he was having a busy day. I also saw many of the same faces and they no doubt noticed me, again and again, ambling without apparent purpose. In others, I saw my own face, and in many boys, I saw Ken's. Many schoolgirls seemed to be speaking what at first sounded French, but must be the local dialect. I also heard my Nana's vocal inflections in the conversation of three old women. It's amazing how that was passed to her in the new country.

I thought that the church ruins on Church Street were where Brigid and Micheal had been married, but in the records at the library I found an article saying it'd been abandoned in 1804, after having first converted to Protestant. It turned out to instead be the ruins on Church Avenue, a fact explained by the gals in the parish office. I had almost not gone in, but it was there that I found the most concise information, such as the villages where Brigid and Michael had come from. It left a small mystery since Comerfords are traditionally from around Mountmellick in the north, yet her town was south of here. Plus, the Dunnes are from here in Portlaois, but Michael's village is even further north than Mountmellick. The clan has a massive gathering near there in the summer. In any case, it was amazing to handle their wedding register from 1874.

Ultimately, the most amazing info came at a pub, which I'd chosen because it looked the oldest in town. I had a beautiful plate of chicken and potatoes, plus a pint of Smithwicks, over next to the hearth. The bartendress herself was from Mountmellick, and knew many Comerfords. When she'd asked me what I was doing there in town, I was embarrassed to be a cliche'd American looking for his ancestry. In fact, had I been asked directly if I were looking for family, I was prepared to answer with, "Yeah, they stepped out for smokes 130 years ago and I haven't seen 'em since." But this woman was quite friendly and told me that one of the older Comerford matriarchs had died last November, having had 15 children. She also said she saw a resemblance in me, especially around the eyes. I was thrilled to hear this. She took my contact info and said she'd pass it on. (Days later, I'd find an email from one of the clan.)

All in all, I'd had a great day, walking in the steps of my ancestry and playing detective. And the moral of my Irish parable is...
If the Church can't help you out, the pub certainly will.

On the turntable: Masabumi Kikuchi, "All Night, All Right, Off White Boogie Band"
On the nighttable: Ken Wilber, "A Brief History of Everything"
On the reel table: "Stroszek" (Herzog, 1976)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sunday Papers: Kenneth Rexroth

"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

On the turntable: Fumio Karashima, "Great Time"

Saturday, March 15, 2008


on an art house screen
nearly as small as my TV.
Sitting in the back row,
crane my neck,
image reversed
on the dusty projector room window.

On the turntable: Hoppy Kamiyama & Bill Laswell, "A Navel City"

Friday, March 14, 2008

White Day in Hammersmith Palais

"Lovers in Japan
They won't notice anyway
They're all too busy fighting
For a good place under neon lighting

The new couples are not concerned
With what there is to be learned
They got birthday suits, ha you think it's funny
Turning chocolate into money"

(Apologies to Mr. Jones & Mr. Strummer)

On the turntable: Stonium 90, "Police Academy"
On the nighttable: Shuhei Fujisawa, "The Bamboo Sword"
On the reel table: "Yuwaku 3" (Walch, 2006)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Chinese Imports

Fuzzy Kyoto,
Yellow sky

On the turntable: Sting, "Demolition Man"
On the nighttable: Rory MacClean, "Magic Bus"
On the reel table: "Il Postino" (Radford, 1994)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Sunday Papers: Joseph Campbell

"Hinduism, like Judaism, is basically a racial religion: one is born a Jew, born a Hindu. Buddhism, on the other hand, is, like Christianity, a religion founded on belief: a creedal religion, hence a world religion, open to all equally, no matter of what mother born. And that, finally, is the meaning of the symbol of the virgin birth. It is neither of race, nor of caste, but absolutely of the spirit."

--The Mythic Image

On the turntable: Coldplay, "X&Y"
On the nighttable: Bruce Chatwin, "On the Black Hill"
On the reel table: "Stagecoach" (Ford, 1939)