Thursday, March 31, 2016


Stand sentinel to guard
The reclusive

On the turntable:  Brian Eno, "Discrete Music"


Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Like the land itself,
My footfalls rise slowly
With the passage of time.

On the turntable:  Bob Weir, "Ace"

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


Buddhist principles
As expressed in weather.

On the turntable:  Boredoms, "Rebore Vol. 2"

Monday, March 28, 2016


Wearily we seek,
On and off the path.
Below us, fishermen seek bonito.

On the turntable:  Bonbino, "Agadez"

Saturday, March 26, 2016


After winter grey,
A resurrection of colors
Eases the soul.

On the turntable:  Brownout, "Aguilas and Cobras"


Friday, March 25, 2016

Poipourri of Strolls

I have a busy day ahead,  a series of hikes and walks splayed across Nara prefecture, which now appears bigger on maps than it had before.  I'd only be able to cover that distance by car, so I rise with the sun and drive into its fresh rays not long afterward.  This early start ensures that I beat Kyoto rush hour traffic, but I hadn't counted Nara city proper, so with a crawl I move in the long shadows of its ancient relics.

I am nearing my first destination when a sign welled up, for something called the Ancient Tang Burial Mound.  Intrigued by the name and the low tower silhouetted against the hills, I pull into the car park.  The tower is built into one corner of a man-made pond, punctuated by wooden planks used as a seat for fishing, and ringed with sakura just coming into bud. The park that surrounds it had been built in 1994, but there seems to be a bit of expansion going on, and I wondered if it were connected to the recent influx of Chinese tourism, and whether those tour groups found their way out here.  Upon approach, I find the tower was off-limits to climbing, but it makes for a pleasant excuse to stretch my legs and bladder. There is a basic information sign telling me that the tomb had been discovered in 1901, but not when it had been built.  There are photos of a few broken relics, now housed in a nearby museum, but I can't budget time to investigate further.  I am intrigued by this long dead Chinese, of a status that warranted him a sizeable tomb.   This area is rich in Korean influence, reflected both in its place names and its artistic traditions, though the Tang had come a bit later and their touch lingers to this day.   

My actual first destination is the alleged burial mound of the legendary Himiko, a shaman-queen who appears in the archives of that Tang Dynasty.  Japanese records are non-existent, so the location of her tomb is in dispute, if she had existed at all.  I had already visited one of her 'tombs' on Kyushu's Kunisaki peninsula, and a month ago I learned of this Hashinaka site.   A flotilla of ducks floats across the placid surface of the pond that bordered this reasonably sized tomb, though the lack of infrastructure gave hint of few human visitors.  There is a small rock garden and a cafe, and how pleasant it would be to sit at the waters edge and ponder what may have been.  Instead I park my car near a kindergarten on the opposite side, the laughter of the children dissolving into that of crows, feisty and active in the forested tomb above.  I circumambulate around the tomb, to the accompaniment of the usual sounds of morning, of the excitable voices of old woman greeting one another in the street, of the bangs of construction somewhere out of sight, of the canned music of a kerosene truck circling slowly and optimistically.

A short drive away is Omiwa Jinja, where I park and walk up to the adjacent Hibara Shrine. Here I am given a sash, a blessing, and a somewhat stern reminder of the rules.    I must appear impatient as I am eager to set off before the group of perhaps 60 old timers kitted out in hiking gear.  I move up quickly and steadily, legs taken aback at the steep pitch of the trail.  I overtake a few people, a family, a middle-aged woman and her less than enthused teenage son, a number of women walking alone.  The forests are wild, untouched, far more beautiful than the straight rows of cedar beyond the fences.  There are a number of features along the way, a waterfall, a spring, an ancient and majestic cypress, towering, towering.  I make good time, nearly half that as predicted by the maps, and before I know it I am standing before a large circle of stones.  This is one of Japan's oldest holy sites, and even today the mountain itself is seen as a god.  In a remote corner of the peak a woman is doing full prostrations to the god, her devotion obviously far deeper than that of the usual 'power-spot' groupie.  I descend just after her, and her sureness of foot betrays the fact that she is quite regular in her veneration.  As I drop lower into the forest, I pass another young woman, with the supple and straight posture of the yogini, feet bare to absorb every bit of prana that the gods allow.  

Onward, south to Uda, an ancient village celebrated in the Manyoshu for its light.  The sky isn't the red of the poem, but a rich blue that doesn't seem to mind that the leaves and flowers have yet to return.  This next section of walk takes me forward through the centuries, from the ancient Asuka countryside, to the mountain temples of the Muromachi, to the centralized hub of Edo town.  Visiting one temple, Tokugenji, I see that the house adjacent to the main hall is littered with drums of a variety of cultures.  Curious, I call out to whomever it is I hear washing up back in the darkness.  I expect a shaved-headed older priest, but instead I am approached by a man closer to my age, with tidy beard and long scraggly hair.  Under the pretext of him clarifying a name on the temple's historical information sign, I shift to ask him about music.  So begins a half-hour conversation about life, music, and common acquaintances.  I'm not sure from his look and manner whether he is the priest here, but his life and vision is far closer to the Buddhist ideal than the more programmed ordained.   His wife, a woodblock printer, joins us, and though I could pass the afternoon here, I need to peel off at some point.  After a quick look at the Oda clan graves in the forest above, I drop down to walk the compact and well-preserved grid of narrow street that make up the town center.  It is a beautiful and quiet place, and once again my mind begins to explore the contours of a life lived in these remote reaches.     

After a long meandering drive through the hills that border Mount Yoshino, I find myself less enthused with the town of Gojo, which is spoilt and overbuilt and hides its lovely old post town look away beside the river.  This single street is the only thing of interest here, and I don't take long to trace its length up and back.  

Then, and finally, I continue to Taishi-cho in order to trace a section I'd skirted as I walked adjacent along the Takeuchi Kaidō.  At its most extreme reach is Futagozuka Tomb, tree-covered and bored out to partially reveal the entrance to the twinned tombs within.  It is rare that you are allowed to walk atop one of these tombs, and from the summit I stand and watch the sun dropping toward Kansai Airport far to the west.  As I turn again toward my car, I see two women in an adjacent field, one lightly patting the belly of the other who has apparently toppled over.  She is quiet and breathing regularly, and I sit with them until a group of men return to help.  I stand there a moment more, wondering what, if anything, to do, until I figure that there is little I can do, and that medical attention had been called.  But the image of these woman stays with me as I too head toward that setting sun, until the traffic pulls my focus back once again to the passage of the road ahead.  

On the turntable:  Art Pepper, "Lost Life"
On the nighttable:  James Kirkup, "Me All Over"

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Writers in Kyoto post

From John Dougill:

"Up now on the Writers in Kyoto website is a travel piece by Ted Taylor, resident of Kyoto who is often on the road - and on the plane, to judge by his Facebook postings. This time he offers us a glimpse into his travels in Sri Lanka, with some wonderful illustrations. Take a look for yourself."

Ted Taylor on the Road

On the turntable:  The Beatles, "Anthology 2"

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Living in Kyoto you get so used to the usual cultural tropes that essentially litter the city. It is like living a full time package tour.

So imagine your shock when that plastic Sakura out front of Kyoto station is in fact a real tree.

On the turntable: Beastie Boys, "Agio e Olio"  

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Linear Equation

What are trains but numbers made manifest?

On the turntable:  Art Pepper, "Lost Life"

Monday, March 21, 2016


A potpourri of strolls.
Rousting out winter,
The warbler as ally.

On the turntable:  Bob Dylan, "Almost Went to See Elvis"

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Shannon is Gone I Heard

In the past, I've posted excerpts from my unedited 2005 Ireland journals in order to mark St. Patrick's Day.   Those previous entries can be found here:  Part 1Part 2Part 3,  Part 4 Part 5Part 6 Part 7.

I didn't sleep well, probably awakening to pee for each pint I had drunk.   Awoke to a beautiful morning.  The coffee at Kinley House was weak, so I decided to walk around town in search of something stronger.  I walked back down the main pedestrian drag, now completely empty and silent.  Even the churches looming on adjacent blocks had no life.  Whereas last night I'd only noticed bars, today I saw the shops, for Aran sweaters and musical instruments and new-age trinkets and the cafes all closed this Sunday morn.  Besides the narrow cobblestone lanes, I found a few ruins -- a Druid temple, the Spanish Arch -- testament to the days when this town was a major port.  I found a few sections of the town's former wall, pigeons loudly cooing in the holes once used to sight rifles.  I went down to the water, up the rushing river, then back through town, wandering aimlessly like a sailor back in port after many weeks at sea

We set off at 10:30, meeting below the spooky mural in Kinley House's stairway, of a wizened hag looking down at a backpacker.  Not far out of town , a dark storm dumped on us, but within 10 minutes the sky was flawless again.  In a field, I saw a bathtub which had been put out to collect rainwater for cows.  We were entering sod country, huge chunks torn from the land to burn in the fireplaces of Dublin, and to be used in the the local power station to power the region.  

Our first stop was at Clonmacnoise, an incredible ancient site of pagan Christianity.  Driving in we passed a Norman fort doing a bizarre balancing act.  After watching an extremely disjunct film, I wandered the site.  There were dozens of ornately carved Celtic crosses dotting the hill, amidst a few small stone cathedrals built here.  A high tower stood watch over the swollen River Shannon, with her blue dark against the green beyond.  There was a power here.  I could have stayed here all afternoon, but for the incredibly strong wind chilling my face and pushing me about.  Wonderful weather for the setting.  I must return.  

Our next stop was at a small pub where I had a really nice roast turkey and a pint, next to a small fire.  We were sitting in the 'Bullshitter's section.'  After lunch, the rest of the group toured Ireland's oldest whiskey distillery, but I chose instead to sit in the adjoining cafe and write.  The road back to Dublin was busy, but we made decent time.  In front of one house, a dog napped in front of a stone deer.  I also noticed that Ireland has its own Farrelly Brothers, but here they are landscapers.  

Our group parted ways, and I killed the evening by checking email and reading in my hostel.  When I went to brush my teeth, I passed a huge Russian who had perhaps the worst body odor ever.  I had to hold off on brushing, the scent filling the bathroom making me gag.  So I quickly set out for The Palace at the Trinity end of Temple Bar.  Upstairs I found a céilidh in full swing. Here I sat, tapping my feet, nursing my last couple of Guinnesses in Ireland.  Coming back to the hostel, the Russians were smoking out front, clad only in T-shirts, hardened against the cold.

I had thought that the night was over, but I entered my room to interrupt a couple in the their 50s in the act of something.  His chest was bare above a hill of a belly, and she was flowing out of her bra and panties.  Startled, I ducked back out and brushed my teeth slowly to give them time.  I returned, apologized and turned out the light.  They were both sharing the same bunk, and both began to snore almost immediately.  A Spanish couple returned and crashed out immediately.  The Spanish guy would make a clicking with his tongue, and I'd move my bed slightly, in an attempt to wake them.  The old guy would mutter in his sleep, "Fuck!  Mumble mumble, fuck!"  It was like sharing a room with Father Jack.  

The next morning I awoke before everyone, trying to make as much noise as possible.  An early bus took me to my ferry that ended up departing four hours late.  But the boat was a nice swank distraction, with two restaurants, a pub, a convenience store, and a movie theater.  I staked out a sofa, and passed the time reading, dozing, and watching the Irish Sea trade Ireland for Wales.  

On the turntable:  Anoushka Shankar, "Anoushka"



Friday, March 18, 2016

Over the Hills and Galway

In the past, I've posted excerpts from my unedited 2005 Ireland journals in order to mark St. Patrick's Day.   Those previous entries can be found here:  Part 1Part 2Part 3,  Part 4 Part 5Part 6

The Day began with a horse ride around Killarney National Park.  We sat seven in the buggy, knee-to-knee.  It was a glorious morning.  The storm which had dumped rain on the me the night before had swollen the rivers, knocked down some trees, and frightened off the deer. Seagulls blown 20  miles inland foraged in the grass.  The town's cathedral loomed behind the trees liked a two-dimensional backdropThe good light and atmospheric clouds threw shadows on the high mountains behind the lake.  A couple Cromwell ruins stood on small islands.  Our driver narrated as we did an hour-long lap.  His rap consisted mainly of sex, those bastards the English, and "Go on, Cap'n."

One of the other tour members had gotten lucky last and made us wait 45 minutes.  Joey blasted us along in order to catch a 12:30 ferry, speeding through hillside and town.  In one, a small Buddha sat above a door.  Sod farmers were at work cutting squares from the earth, piled up like wet cord wood.  Joey told us that there are certain villages in Ireland that have chosen to speak Gaelic over English.  Throughout the country, many signs are posted in both languages.  But in these towns, it was only the former.  

We made our ferry in time and drove aboard.  I stood out on the deck, to feel the wind on my face and to try to steal a glimpse of the Atlantic far off to my left.  Huge waves broke on the bow, sending up large plumes of spray.  I felt truly happy today, standing under mostly blue skies, damp and chilly from the wind.  I felt alive.

When we landed, we were in County Clare.  It was soon easy to see why it was considered by many to be their favorite part of Ireland.  The hills were low and flatter with no real tress to speak of, offering long views.  Houses dotted the green.  It was Father Ted country out here.  The houses were a bit taller, with thick walls for protection against Atlantic storms.  A few had thatched roofs.  We stopped for lunch in Tralee, a small beach town known for its surfing (!).  I had a bowl of seafood chowder in a pub which stood on the lone road through town.  I then hurried to the long beach at the end of the bay here to see the source of my lunch.  I glimpsed the Atlantic a couple of times today, but this was the first time I've stood on its eastern shore, looking back to where I had once frolicked.  It grew shallow gradually as I'd remembered, so I walked far out in inch deep water.  The wind blew foam across its rippled surface, like little Men-of-War.  A surfer was coming out and told me that although the surf wasn't so big here, today it was particularly shit.  Props to him though, as he was in the cold north Atlantic on this day, February 12.  

We drove on up, overlooking the vast space, dotted by multi-colored houses.  Large towers built by the French overlooked the sea.  The land here along the shore looked like sand dunes that had been painted green.  Joey talked of fairy circles where dead children had been buried.  He pointed out the kitchens that had once taken on the hungry, and now stood in ruin.  He pointed up at an obelisk, the monument to the man responsible for such misery in the land.

Cromwell had continually pushed the Irish west until they were put on limestone land unfit for crops.  Potatoes were the only thing that could grow here, yet the blight had changed that.  Taxes eventually moved them off.  Door taxes could be avoided by using half-doors, but the chimney taxes turned the residents black.  Dance taxes led to the devlopment of the Riverdance, where the feet moved but the upper body looked stationary to prying eyes looking from outside.   

Before we set off, I asked Joey if there were any holy wells that he knew of, and he told that one of the holiest, St. Brigid's, was near.  Thus we stopped at a little stone igloo set into a hillside below a graveyard.  Inside, the walls were lined with poems and offerings given by Catholics.  In the back was a small spring, filling a rock-lined pool. I put my hand in the water and touched my head and chest.  Strangely, I couldn't breathe well for a number of breaths.  I had to walk back up to the graveyard until I caught it again.  

Next was the Rock of Mohor, huge cliffs falling 700 feet into the sea.  On the walk up, I passed a guy playing the fiddle, and was amazed that he could move his fingers in the strong icy wind.  Atop the walk was a long flat set of slabs, where truly insane people could lay on their backs and look upside down over the edge.  From here, the ridge rose toward the right.  Midway up, the strong wind was blowing a waterfall back up, spraying the trail and us walkers on it.  (If a waterfall doesn't actually fall, can it still be called a waterfall?  And why do we call a dry waterfall, a waterfall?)  At the top of the trail was a tall observation tower.  (Building a castle here would have been foolish, putting your back to 700 foot cliffs.)  The wind here was unreal.  At one point I could no longer physically move forward.  It was if a hand were holding me in place.  The trail was cut a meter or so below the cliff's edge so there was no real danger of being blown over.  Still, it felt as it I could be lifted off my feet at any second.  I gave up and moved sideways.  Heading toward the bottom, the wind whipping through the wire fence sounded like an army on the move, groaning into battle.  

We drove on toward the Burren.  On this tour, Joey usually told his stories while driving.  But for this tale he stopped completely.  And as he spoke, his voice was emotional, angry.  He talked of the famine and the systematic elimination of 2 million people from the island.  The people had been forced to dig up the large stones on the landscape, both to improve the farming conditions for the English, and to break the spirit of the Irish.  I had been noticing these walls all day, thinking them beautiful caterpillars crawling across the hillside. Now they looked like stitches.  Joey told us that a million folks had been displaced to wander these roads.  We drove into this harsh land, with the sun ducking toward the horizon and the uilleann pipes mournful on the stereo.  

We tried to catch rugby on TV at a pub, but missed it by minutes.  Drove to Galway after dark.  Had a meal at a pub near a JFK monument, yet another tribute to this man.  A couple of good blues guitars went at it.  I stayed for an hour, then led the troops in search of trad music.  We popped into every pub that had bands, but it seemed mainly cover bands playing to college aged crowds.  Each pub was packed and the streets outside busy.  Finally, I followed someone's directions and went over the fast water rushing under Wolfe Tone Bridge, up a maze of stubby streets to The Crane.  

Inside its small packed space, a few musicians were going through their paces, playing a slow quiet tune.  But there was a second, darker bar upstairs where it was going off, the musicians cooking up a groove.  The fiddle player was Asian, and the drummer had Joyce spectacles, braided locks, and long bushy beard.  He was jamming on the spoons.  I;d come looking for music but had found something better, an organic jam session of dudes who had happened to find each other.  The bar was noisy and the music tough to hear, but occasionally someone would shush the crowd and a woman would begin to sing a mournful love song.  There would be no other sound in the place.  I loved how much music was such a part of the everyone's soul here.  You can enslave a people's body or mind, but you can't enslave their spirit. 

During a break, I talked to the drummer about how to play Irish style.  He was a generous guy who showed me a few tricks.  I left the pub at just past one, humming Irish songs as I wandered up the near empty streets, running the gauntlet between weaving drunks...

On the nighttable:  Afro-Celt Sound System, "Sound Magic, Vol. 1"                 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Wept for my Daddy-o

In the past, I've posted excerpts from my unedited 2005 Ireland journals in order to mark St. Patrick's Day.   Those previous entries can be found here:  Part 1Part 2Part 3,  Part 4 Part 5.   Hoping to wrap it up a bit more quickly, I will post the final three pieces over the next few days.  

In the morning I jumped on a three-day Paddywagon tour of the south.  Joey our driver was a bit of a nutter, suddenly launching into song or impressions of Gollum, claiming to hear voices.  Throughout the day, he'd sing a dozen or so old Irish folk songs, plus a pop song or two.  They'd jump into his head based on what he'd see.  (I did the same, being cursed with Spinal Tap's "Hellhole" after seeing the Murder hole at Blarney Castle.)  

During  the long drive, he regaled us with stories of Irish history.  He talked of the Celts covering their bodies with white clay to scare invaders into thinking the island was populated with ghosts.  As he said this, I could almost see white figures dashing through the forest.  We passed a large open plain where some of the battles in Braveheart had been filmed.  Two locals had achieved notoriety by having their van drive through the background during one of the scenes.  I guess the producers hadn't expected any Irishman actually going to work at 5 a.m.  The passing landscape certainly suited medieval battles.  Ruins punctuated the green grids of hedge-bordered fields.  Two horses frolicked just off the road.  

Our first stop was the Rock of Cashel, a medieval fortress standing atop a rock.  The atmosphere of the place was incredible, huge open chambers interconnected by high arches and circular stone stairs.  The roof was nearly gone, and the crows looked down and laughed.  Defensive slits in the wall looked out onto a graveyard, Celtic crosses high on the hill.  Some of the graves had relatively recent dates, forming part of the walk around the back of the cathedral.  A small angel marked a child's grave.  At the top of the ground was a huge ornately carved stele which had broken two-thirds of the way up, the shattered pieces now littering the base. 

We drove down toward Tipperary (which wasn't such a long way).  Nearby Cahir Castle was still complete, a testament to its strength.  Oliver Cromwell ended up keeping it rather than razing it, recognizing the strategic value.  It was at a confluence of rivers which formed a V-shaped drop like a fun park ride.  No doubt it had once been a sacred Celtic site.  I admired the defenses, not unlike those utilized by the Japanese.  Circular stairs rose clockwise as it would be harder for a right handed man to wield his sword.  A cannonball was lodged in the wall where it had hit.  I had my first look at a wrought-iron spiked gate , as I'd seen in films.  The main chamber was quite warm and had incredibly thick walls.  Over the fireplace at the room's far end hung the enormous antlers of a prehistoric deer.  I enjoyed climbing up and down the curved stairs, popping into damp stone rooms, peering through archery slits, precariously moving along narrow walks high atop the cubist walls.  I also learned that prisoners here, as throughout the UK, had an 'M' for malefactor branded on their right hands.  This is why we raise it while swearing on a bible.  

The land grew hillier the further we drove into Cork.  We passed Cob'h and its deep port, the Titanic's last port of call.  The ship must have looked immense against the small town and low hills.  We passed through a few market towns, noticeable due to their wide streets.  Some towns had essentially a single structure running the street length, individual homes demarcated by different colors of paint.  At one point, we passed a camp of caravans.  It is said that they were perhaps the descendants of farmers uprooted during the famine.  Or they may go back 8000 years.  

Our next stop was Blarney Castle, an incredibly tall narrow structure that rose out of a beautiful patch of landscape of fast-moving brooks, low stone bridges, and open expanses of green.  As at Cahir, I wound round and round the steps.  The top was open to the air, paths leading around perimeter to the Blarney Stone.  An attendant held you in place while you lay on the stones, bending backward over the wall to kiss a stone hanging perpendicular.  The stone was shiny from years of handing and kissing (though I've also heard that the locals come piss on it at night).  Back down at the castle's base, I found the grounds amazing, following the paths around the Rock Close and its wonderfully Tolkienesque landscape.  There was a peace and stillness that I'd not found since arriving in the Uk the week before.  (I later found out that I had been in an old pagan temple.)  I walked across the bog to an awaiting pub.  I liked the way the earth molded to me feet as I walked it.  The feet up, I had a pint of Murphy's drunk more regularly in Cork than Guinness.            
 Coffee in hand, I hopped the bus and we did our final push to Killarney.  The road got wilder from here.  As we entered the Cork and Kerry mountains Joey began to sing Whiskey in a Jar.  He told us the story of Micheal Collins, killed in these hills.  You could see how easy it would be to launch guerrilla attacks from such a landscape, a landscape of large boulders, steep hills, dense scrub, and fast rivers.  Waterfalls hugged the ridges as they dropped below the treeline, all a dense mass of small pines.  Though a bit inhospitable, everything was in miniature. It was a place where legends began.

We pulled at dusk into Killarney, this perfect little tourist town of narrow streets.  Dinner was at a pub.  Members of Paddy Wagon's six-day tour came in on their last night.  Their body language was completely different to ours, having had nearly a week to bond.  We on the other hand were still acting like middle-schoolers at a dance.  After dinner, we headed off to another pub  for a drink called a car-bomb, which consisted of a shot each of Baileys and Jamesons, dropped into a pint of Guinness and then slammed.  It was tasty, like cocoa, but was like an express elevator to the brain.  Some live music came on, and like the present company, wasn't terrible interesting to me, so I set off to find some trad music.  I'd forgotten to replenish my cash from my room and had only 3.20 in my pocket.  Luckily, I found a half-pint for 2.45, which I sat nursing, surrounded by a bunch of old timers grooving to four middle-aged men badly mic'd...

On the turntable: Andrew Hill, "Compulsion"
On the nighttable:  Honore de Balzac, "Lost Illusions"

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Rumination on Ruin

Funny how the ride in to city from the airport is through a landscape familiar--suburbs, box stores, commercial warehouses.  That is, through a landscape familiar, one found in most countries.  It is only when you approach a city center that you find it begins to take on a distinct cultural character. 

On the turntable:  Andrew Hill, "A Beautiful Day"

Monday, March 14, 2016


In the footsteps
Of Saracens, Romans, and goats.
They too knew Spring.

On the turntable:  Boredoms, "Rebore Vol. 1"