Monday, December 30, 2013

Journey to the West

The chill hit my cheeks the moment I left the subway station.  I was retracing the steps I'd taken the previous day, though now I was walking on the opposite side of the street, where the sun was striking.  And today the rhythm of my footfalls along the Saigoku Kaidō was echoed by those of Joel Stewart, friend, local artist and wearer of good hats.  While I tend to prefer walking these old roads alone, I appreciated Joel's company, and his perspective.  Where I've often walked with mountaineers, or history buffs, or those versed in indigenous spirituality, I had yet to walk with an artist, and Joel's eye helped shape a different type of day.

It began nearly immediately, at Tōji.  I noticed the way the fresh morning light was playing upon the wall along the temple moat, but Joel noticed what the light was doing to the color.  I envied him then his medium of expression, as he can do in paint what I've tried and failed for a decade to do with words, in trying to capture my obsession for light and the form it takes.

Yet Joel's interest today was less visual and more temporal, and as we walked we discuss the history of our adopted city, not just on what happened say, a thousand years ago, but touching on the fact that so many others have walked these streets since.  And traces of this overlap of time were ever present through the day.  The ruins of the Rashomon gate brought up of course Kurosawa and his famous eponymous work.  Nearby Saiji exists merely as a small mound in a park, where the rays of this new morning were imprinted upon the trunks of the massive enoki trees atop, as a reflected heat that warmed the hand.   Leading away were the row houses now empty but for the vines growing up behind window panes still intact.  The banks of the Katsura river carry the scars of recent typhoon damage.  Upon one remaining tree sat a shrike, looking down into the water with a predator's gaze, in that identical way Miyamoto Musashi captured his own bird with a deft stroke of the brush.   
Across the Katsuragawa, the Saigoku Kaidō took on the familiar look of an old highway, winding its way out of Kyoto's outer suburbs.  Close to the river it assumed the form of old homes that had once served as the inns that housed travels stuck on one bank or the other when the river ran too high to safely be ferried across.  Throughout the day these old houses appeared frequently enough to grab our attention.

Just over the tracks in Mukō, we ducked into a small cafe that seemed to be referencing a Showa era Francophilia in its film posters and lo-fi chanson R&B.  Like many of these places, it was overstaffed, but each of the waitresses was a real looker.  I was certainly not the only one to notice, filled as it was with older men dining alone.  As Joel and I girded ourselves against the impending cold with God Mountain coffee, our discussion turned to art and writing and the challenges of the creative process.

From that point, conversation ruled the day, as the landscape through which we passed became more and more suburban and mundane.  Our talk meandered through art, relationships, parenting, mutual friends, death and loss, sustainability, and the importance of good deeds.   As I'd recently watched the third film in Linklater's "Before..." trilogy, I began to feel like we were speaking his cinematic language, in our own movie entitled perhaps, "Before New Years." 

Our attention was drawn back to the aesthetic of the old highway as it moved through Nagakakyo, attractively paved in stone and busy with residents heading off on pre-holiday errands.  Yet under the expressway into Yamazaki, it once again lost its appeal, and the final hour was dictated less by the direction of the eye, and more by the drift of the mind.

The final steps up to the Hachiman shrine were accompanied by the strong scent of sesame oil, which had once been processed in this area and is now being used as an prominent ingredient in the whiskey produced in the hills above.  We faced in that direction, completing our day with four claps that resounded into one of the last days of the year.  With the shadows falling over us, this day too began to wane.

On the turntable;  Robert Plant, "The Principle of Moments'

1 comment:

Joel said...

Nice write up, Ted. "Lo-fi chanson R&B" rocks.