Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sunday Papers: Marcus Aurelius

"Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature's delight." 

On the turntable:  The Blues Project, "Live at Town Hall "

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Knowing Tranquility XIX (Okunoshima)

If I were allowed to make lists a la Sei Shonagon, I'd add to the one titled "Moving Things," the white of the egret wrapped in a green rice paddy.  The rice harvest is just beginning, the fishermen moving into the fields, riding up and back the rows on their tractors.  One completed, they'll trun once more to the sea, to their oysters and sea bream.  Then they'll turn indoors, to wait out winter.  

I find a massive queue for my boat out to Okunoshima.  I've heard about how popular the place has become, especially with the foreigners.  There are are few ahead of me, taking up space with their huge backpacks.  Luckily the boat the big car ferry, with plenty of room for all.  The shipping company too is maximizing the tourist boom, and as the island wells up, it is announced that we are about to arrive on Rabbit Island.    

They must be conditioned to the sound of the engines, and even before we dock, a couple of dozen rabbits appear from the bushes.  As I walk across the grass in the direction of the visitor center, they seem to be everywhere, around the benches, tucked around and beneath the wooden walkways that line the shore.  The ferry passengers are all hard at work in feeding them, with carrots and bags of feed that was sold at the ferry terminal and at the local convenience store.  The former has a good system where you return the empty plastic bags for postcards when you return to the port.  

The island has no homes, the only inhabitants being the transient workers who come from the mainland to work the visitor center, the gas museum, or the Kyukamura Resort here.  The former is surprising in size and content, with dispalys of the wildlife and even a passage that allows you see what is happening underground.  I pay a visit to the museum, which doesn't hold my interest for very long.  The gas works themselves are on the north end of the island, merely a shell now.  It was secretly developed in the 1920s to develop mustard gas, converted from an old fishery.  Employees and the few residents of the island were never told what was manufactured here, and little surprise that many of them fell ill from exposure.  The US Occupation forces were co-conspirators in this, destroying records and covering up evidence after the war.  And the usual Japanese aversion to its wartime history can be inferred by one of the English explanations that say no one is sure how many people were affected during the war.  In fact we do know: 80,000 victims during the 2000 times the gas was used.  

Most people assume that the island's famous rabbits are descendants of animals tested in the factories.  The Americans euthanized those after the war.  The current colony originated with eight animals brought here by school children in 1971, and has since exploded into over a thousand.  The tourism of course justifies this as a boon rather than as a problem , though one sign made me chuckle as it asks visitors to refrain from releasing their own pet rabbits.  (Though nowhere did it say that you can't take a few home.)

The largest number of animals, and people, is on the broad lawns of the Kyukamura Resort. Aside from a few towering palms, there is little shade, and as I walk along the hot and sunny west shore the only rabbits I see are resting in shallow pits they've dig in the shade.  The path itself gets far more shade as it wraps around the north end of the island. There are a number of old gun barracks here, some as old as the China War of 1895.  Later during the Korean War, the US stored weapons in the ruins.  For me this was the best part of the walk, ducking in and out of the ruins, before facing the main attraction: the massive gas works, towering sulkily amongst the vegetation, gutted completely with only light filling its broken windows.  

Much later, I read an article about the rabbits on the Modern Farmer website that states that the ecosystem here is completely unsustainable, as the rabbit are fed a great deal on sunny days like the one I had, but then get nothing when the rains keep the visitors away.  This imbalance, the lack of actual edible vegetation on the island due to overpopulation, has shortened their life span to two years. 

And so it was that their source of sustenance boarded the ship back across the water.  Along the way I thought I was being witty in thinking of this land of bunnies as Easter Island.  Yet as that island's residents too had deforested and overpopulated themselves into extinction, it no longer seems so amusing.  

On the turntable:  The Church, "Of Skins and Heart"          

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Knowing Tranquility XVIII (Onomichi)

My daughter, a true Cancerian, isn't yet finished with the water.  She wants to skim more stones. We see huge jellyfish floating in the tide line, and lucky for me they left me alone the evening before.  Then it is time for our boat.  We ride the five minutes back to town on the 2010 reconstruction of the Irohamaru, whose spiky black form looks a bit intimidating.  It would have been a fearful sight to watch it appear from a bank of fog.  

Our next boat is sleek and modern, but we have time for a quick coffee at a little shop near the Joyato.  The smell of f afresh roast is strong, and once again I am glad that the Japanese are such world-class hobbists, that they work so hard to get things right.  The ponytailed owner seems at peace with himself, and I think of so many like him that I have met over the years. It is easy to follow your dreams in the countryside, where prices are cheap and the locals are usually looking for an interesting distraction. The decor of this ramshackle old house has a number of CD's for sale, the bands probably having played here before.  So reminiscent of my life before Kyoto.  I feel so at home in these little rural environments.

A direct boat between Tomo no Ura and Onomichi seems such so obvious, but they only run it on weekend in the summer.  After nearly boarding the wrong boat to god knows where, we jet away from the port.  As looked at from the water, the town shows its most delightful face, held steadfast by the famous stone lantern.  For a moment or two we too are part of "Japan's best scenery," before we too drift off on the tide.    

Tides are little important at this speed, but time appears frozen, as it often does while on the water.  Temples hang from cliff faces. Men fish from small craft, watching the flow of thought as they await the next strike.  A large bridge arcs beautifully across the straight.  A seaplane--a new service as of a few months before--unleashes a wall of spray then is aloft.  Pulling close to the massive prop and
keel of a new frieghter being constructed here, but already registered to Panama.  (I had found this strange at first, that an unlikely number of ships carried that registry, or for that of Monrovia.  An obvious tax dodge.) 

As the boat drops us near U2, we step in for lunch.  This hotel is perhaps the trendiest in Japan at the moment.  Ostensibly built for the use of bicycles prior to their crossing the Shimanami Kaido, the modern, cutting edge rooms are attracting all sorts, in order to enjoy the unique fusion of trad Japanese and the latest amenities.  We grab a few interesting things for tomorrow's breakfast then sit for lunch in a hip cafe that screams ultra cool minimalism.  Behind us is a funky gallery and a bicycle shop, filling this huge open warehouse with hip. 

Our own digs for the night are up in the hills above, though also affiliated with U2.  On the way to their offices to pick up the keys, we stop in the Onomichi film museum, commemorating the fact that this atmospheric town has been the local to over 40 films, the best known being Boy, Naked Island, and of course, Tokyo Story.   This is one of my favorite museums in Japan, filled with stills and posters from some of the Japanese film industry's greatest works.  I am obsessed in particular with Showa period film, in particular the 25 years after the war (From 1970, the works of even the greatest directors begin to look a little too much like TV.), and it is like revisiting old favorite.  But perhaps the highlight is the old 1960s cinema they have erected in the back room, projectors whirring away.

Our accommodation is an old kura storehouse that has been gutted and rebuilt in a similar way to U2 itself, blending Japanese aesthetic with an almost Scando-minimalism.   There is a sunken wooden living room where a hori-kotatsu had once been, the only furniture are a mass of throw pillows.  The hinoki tub overlooks a vast garden, above which is an old Taisho era house that must offer amazing views of the straits below.  The bedroom is as plush as any luxury hotel, though framed in dark wood and shoji.  A dream.

We don't linger long as we are already well into the afternoon.  We spend it wandering the alleys and passageway along the hill.  I have already traced the route connecting the temple on two prior visits, so feel no real need to see anything.  We meander the cat alley, then ride the ropeway to the park above Senkō-ji. There are many people enjoying the warm sunny day, but it appears that the Asian tourist groups have yet to discover the town.  Here, and at Tomo no Ura the day before, reminds me of what travel used to feel like it Japan, three generations of dreamy but nervous young couples, the quiet, well-dressed, and somewhat jaded middle-aged, and the bus groups of old-timers.  

We descend down the Path of Literature, stopping to try to read the large stones imprinted with quotes of famous poets and writers.  My daughter ducks and hops the large stones the define the trail.  After a spin around the old Buddhas of Senkō-ji, I climb the chains to the Ishizuchi shrine atop some towering boulders.  The view from this point is the best in town.

At sunset we descend to town to haunt the old shopping arcade in search of dinner.  Little is open on the three-day weekend, causing me to wonder yet again whether small business owners are truly serious about making any money.  We continue to walk, and it is full dark by the time we reach the Takemuraya Inn, where Ozu filmed a number of scenes for Tokyo Story.  (If it weren't for U2 I'd probably stay here.)  In front of nearby Sumiyoshi Shrine is the tall and familiar lantern that served as a pillow shot for the film. Beyond it, the night is still and quiet.  And despite the main takeway line from Ozu's classic, life, and this moment in it, isn't a disappointment at all.     

On the turntable:  The Band, "The Last Waltz"
On the night table:   Ajahn Sucitto. "Great Patient One"

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Knowing Tranquility XVII (Tomo no Ura, Sensuijima)

Kasaoka smells like cow dung, but luckily I am not there long. The train pulls me southwest toward Tomo no Ura, long a favorite destination of mine.  I first need to change transport in Fukuyama, and since I've never really explored the city, I decide to stretch my legs.  

The Hiroshima prefectural is a very short walk away, within the grounds of the former castle.  The displays of everyday life in the Inland Sea prove interesting, particularly the ones dealing with trade with mainland Asia. Conspicuously absent are displays on the piracy that formed an alternative economy for most of Japan's history (and which ultimately brought it the civilizing influences of Buddhism and writing).   I eye the toys from the 1930s, and wonder what happened to the boys they belonged to. 

What ultimately brought me here is a mock-up of the old town of Kusado Sengen, a Kamakura era commercial port that was forgotten for centuries. It was rediscovered in 1931 during attempts to re-route the Ashida River, yet aside from the collection of some artifacts, it was allowed to return to the sandbank under which it had long slept.  True excavation took place three decades later, before ultimately the town was reclaimed once again by the waters.  The model town built within the museum was quite delightful, giving one the sense of a simple, yet flourishing life the residents once had. I stroll around, ducking into a few of the huts and pondering how well preserved the artifacts are, after all those years beneath the sand and silt.    

A taxi takes me out to the site itself, but there is nothing at all to see but for some boys playing baseball on a reclaimed stretch of river.  Fom the perspective of the bridge you'd never imagine that there was an entire town beneath.  I find my bus stop around the corner, and follow those same waters south to their source in Tomo-no-ura.

There I find LYL and my daughter waiting for me.  The latter is a big fan of Ponyo, set here in this small fishing village.  Director Miyazaki Hayao spent two months in an old inn on a hill at the water's edge, sketching and getting the town's basic vibe.  The inn itself made it into the film, in the form of the main character's house.  But sightseeing can wait, for it is lunchtime.  We walk along the concrete wall above the water, atop which people fish, despite the signs forbidding it.  In the center of the port we find a small cafe that does nice chicken burgers and curry.   A projector is screening Ponyo on a bare white wall, and my daughter settles onto a sofa to watch.  The cafe has been converted from an old kura storehouse,  and many old artifacts are decoratively strewn about.  The owner has a good feel for the modern as well, as the cafe also serves craft beer and provides hookahs for those who like their tobacco flavored.  

With a six-year old, it is a day not meant for moving fast, but that suits us.  We stop again just across the water, to sit for coffee and a shaved ice at outdoor tables.  It is a perfect day for sitting out, early autumn in the air.  I watch the world go by awhile before going in to pay.  The proprietor is a funky bohemian type, and the interior of his shop reflects the wonderful chaos of an engaged mind. As I admire the sketches of the famous writers who had spent time in town since the days of the ancient Manyoshu. I look away from the wall to notice a character sitting further back of the shop.  he too had an artistic look to him, tempered by hints of what must have been a tough life.  I say hello, and he asks me if I can read what I'd been looking at.  When I affirm that I can, he begins to tell me a bit about himself, how he had studied German literature while young, and had a great affinity for Europe and its ideas.  This is the type of conversation I love to have, and could happily spend an hour or more with him.  But I have people with me and need to move on.  As it is, over a few minutes the conversation lurches from Hesse to the Meiji period to the Chinese Zodiac.            

We too lurched away, but only to the Irohamaru museum next door, beckoned in by the life sized photo of Sakamoto Ryoma within the door.  Beyond was a scale model of the remains of his ship, which went down beneath him in 1867.   Divers hover on wires examining the wreck.  Artifacts pulled from the waters decorate the walls, while upstairs is a replica of the room where Ryoma had hidden from the authorities after the sinking.  The actual house where he did so lies across town, and we pass it and many other houses from the period weaving the narrow lanes, stopping occasion to taste a bit of dried squid, or some of the town's famous life-enhancing alcohol made of 16 herbs.

We climb to the old castle ruins which now house the folklore museum, quite appropriate for a town that has so many fine festivals.  But the town's real treasure stands on the adjacent hilltop.  A Korean envoy had called the view the best in japan, and while that is obvious hyperbole, he's not too far off.  This port was a well known stop off for diplomatic missions to the continent, known as a safe harbor to wait out storms.  Little wonder so many renowned figures spent some time here, moving at a pace slightly slower than out own.

As the light begins to go out of the sky, we cross the waters to Sensuijima, where we'll stay the night.  This island has a special place for me as I stayed out here for a couple of days,  moving little except for wandering the trails above the waters, including the one that took me up and over the peak. Today I stay closer to the water itself, wading out a ways before returning to skim stones with my daughter.  Above the forest behind us, dozens of kites and crows swirl and dive as they do battle.   

Others take to the beach after dinner, in search of florescent kelp that are famous this season.  I am not too interested as I have my own wonderful memories of swimming amidst them up in the Sea of Japan, and taking part in a group event of 70 people will not top those. 

The cry of an heron wakes me at dawn.  The three of us have the beach front walk to ourselves early the next morning, and we head into the rising sun.  The trail leads us pass some curiously colored stones. and LYL tries to guess the mineral content behind each hue. My daughter is taken with the crabs spooked by our passing shadows, which flit into the nearest tide pools.  As for, as ever, it is the views from above, of the sea and its many islands, life on each starting the day anew.

On the turntable:  The Chieftains, "The Very best of The Chieftains"

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Knowing Tranquility XVI ( Kutsuna Islands, Matsuyama, Aoshima)

 It had been a strange night.  My lodging had been perhaps one of the most remote on the entire journey, but had proven the liveliest. A group of workmen looked to be long term residents, occupied with a public works project of some sort.  I'd worried about them and their cigarettes and their possible noise, but I barely noticed they were there.  The real noise came from a private party raging away somewhere in the inn,  group of drunken old timers having a reunion of sorts.  Luckily they ran out of steam around 10.

I am always amused by the concept of reunions in Japan.  People in their 60s still meet regularly with their kindergarten mates, and I still get emails for meetups from a drum three-day drum workshop I took 15 years ago.  But we all know that the group is the thing, and the only time people seem to be alone in public is when they walk their dog.  

There are plenty of dog walkers when I walk through the sleepy suburbs toward the ferry dock.  I sit by the water and eat a basic "road breakfast" of convenience store bread and canned coffee.  Others begin to show up for the early commute out to the Nakajima,the central hub of the Kutsuna island chain.  One is a young foreign woman, who I take to be the English teacher for the schools out there.  I am curious about what life must be like for her, but rather than pester her with questions, I choose to leave her alone.  I probably know the story already:  Former teachers had probably lived on the island itself, but finally one had asked to be relocated to the mainland.  More anonymity that way, while simultaneously more access to others from abroad.  Being foreign in Japan is a special type of loneliness.   

As the boat speeds along, I decide that while I'm not lonely, I am a little bored.  These islands don't seem to offer much to look at, and I could see from a distance that Nakajima has been overbuilt.  Maybe I am getting tired of seeing similar looking places, or again, maybe I know I was nearing journey's end.  In any case. I no longer feel that I want to walk across it to another ferry port on the opposite.  Donald Richie had come here by mistake, having boarded the wrong boat.  In my own case I was beginning to feel the same way. One of my favorite parts of this trip was riding around on the boats anyway, so I decided that I would do something different and remain aboard, following the commuter line around to four of the other islands in the chain.

Not that there is much.  Nuwa-jima hides behind tetrapods. From the first floor of a house in the port you'd never see anything of the sea. Tsuwaji-jima has more charm, but is somewhat forlorn.  Little surprise as this island is the furthest out.  But the name of Futagami-jima had intrigued and been the real catalyst for my change of heart.  It has only a few houses, and small intimate harbor, above which stands a small and beautifully weather-beaten temple.  I wonder about the other deities, the two that had given the island its name.  While that information eludes me when I investigate later, I do find that in 1972 National Geographic had done a pictoral on the island, as one place untouched by the modernization of the mainland.  But time has proven to leave it behind.  All the schools have now closed, as there is no one under the age of 16.   

But two shonen (youths) had left an impact on the island, one I was surprised to find that I had witnessed.  In 1998 a comedy duo known as Rokkotsu Mania had elected to be stranded on nearby Yuri Island, and I had followed their story for over a year on the program Jump! Dempa Shonen, up until they had eventually escaped to this very same Futagami Island.  A coincidence befitting the gods.   

And the divine can be felt in the winds building out to the west past sprawling Yashiro Island, which closes on the Inland Sea, upon the hinge of a bridge that connects it to the mainland. A number of fishermen are out on the water, trying to get in lone last catch before the typhoon roars in in a day or two.    

Windswept I arrive in port, then ride a rattletrap train into Matsuyama proper.  While leading tours, I've often stayed the night over in Dōgō Onsen, and it dawns on me that I've never really looked around town proper.  There are a few old buildings at the base of the castle, of minor historical interest in the Meiji period.  The castle above is an original, as are many others in a remote Shikoku, barely touched by WWII.  I give my weary legs a break with a ride on a chair lift, then wander a long while around the castle grounds, before descending a forested and uneven walk down to and to the quiet of the Ninomaru Shiseki garden below.  

I was given time to dawdle since there are only two boats a day out to Aoshima.  The train rattles me further down the coast, well beyond where Richie ever got.  The train is surprisingly full, for a weekday, most of them college students.  Nearly all of them disembark at Shimonada Station, due to the fact that it is an unmanned station, in keeping with the current trend to 'collect' visits to remote lines and stations.  Shimonada is special in that it has been featured numerous times on the Seishun 18-Ticket train pass for young people.  (No I am not making this up.  I suppose it beats sitting around a tiny flat on a sunny afternoon.)         

The rest of the youth get off with me, and we all share the same boat out to Aoshima, aka Cat Island.  At the time of writing, the island has dwindled to a mere 15 residents, not enough to put together a baseball game.  But there are well over 100 cats.  The latter advance at the sound of our engines, running for the dock.  On further look, I see that food has been left nearby, probably to draw them out.  Some of the cats rub themselves in what looks like the dust of of former meals. A number of people, including another foreigner, are wandering around, having come on the morning boat.  Ours will wait for an hour until taking us all back.

While waiting to board the boat the rain had begun to potsu potsu off the water, but out here it is clear.  I leave the group clustered around the cats and wander off to a shrine that I'd seen on approach.  It is on a lonely promontory, near a marker commemorating an SDF plane that crashed into these in 1986.  To quote the inscription, they now "rest in the treasure house that are these waters."    

I wander back past the pier and through the town.  I climb up to a small shrine and look around. This is the real appeal to me, the ruins of a community that once supported 900.  Today I see only four or five structure that look livable.  The rest are listing, falling in, being overtaken by ivy and vines.  I continue to climb, up to the open field where the elementary students had played until 1976.  The middle school, closed a decade before, and is now nearly overtaken with vegetation.  I carry on out to the far end of village, before turning back.  There are cats literally everywhere.   

For such a large island, the human community of Aoshima has clustered itself in a single small cove. The cats too seem to linger there.  I don't like their chances.  A nurse visits regularly, and there are obvious stockpiles of food, but what's going to happen to these cats when the people eventually die off?  How can they survive, fed and pampered as they are.  Those able to adapt would probably devour anything edible soon enough, and then the island would truly become uninhabited. 

I have a little time before the boat leaves, so go sit awhile with the cats.  One woman teases the cats with toys she has brought with her.  How often has she been here?  There are a number of photographers here too. I'd seen a number of them stalking between buildings, like they were hunting game.  They are representative of the popularity of the island, which has been drawing day-trippers since the island began to appear in blogs a few years ago.      

As we pull away, a man comes out to the waterfront and waves us goodbye. I had seen him earlier.   Startled by the sound of a television coming from somewhere, I noticed him sitting in one of the houses, thus absorbed. What else are you going to do, I suppose, when all of your neighbors are gone.  I couldn't imagine anyone spending the night here.  It all seemed so haunted. 

Looking at the others on the boat, I think of how different our time on the island must have been.  They were consumed with life, with the time spent with the cats.  Me, sentimental as I am, saw the decay, the death of what had once been a thriving community.  But there is hope. Aoshima, like a number of other island I visited have been getting a lot of attention on social media.  The falling birthrate and flight of young people to the cities is most certainly killing off a lot of rural Japan. Yet it is these same young people who are also instilling life, albeit second hand through social media or their interest in manga or films set in small communities.  This revitalization around pop culture is literally life imitating art. 

On the turntable:  The Cure, "Buried Demos"

Friday, September 29, 2017

Knowing Tranquility XV (Kurahashijima, Nomijima, Ninoshima)

Today, Wednesday, somehow resembles Sunday. In the fading light last evening, I had found Kure somewhat attractive, if I turned my back to the water. But the drive out of town officially shifts Kure into the ugly column, and beyond.  I find buses in Japan a problem as the bar across the window is at eye height.  My knees are locked against the seat in front so can't really slouch, leaving the scenery outside to look watermarked. Any old buildings I see are made of brick, the only things to have survived the bombings.  Next comes the Japanese SDF base, whose ships bob peacefully beside those of the US Navy.  The towering grey of their hulls blot out the city beyond completely.  

Then Ondo. Hot today. Richie wandered an old machine gun bunker, reading the graffiti left behind.  There are many such bunkers guarding the well-protected channel into Kure, and I couldn't even imagine finding the one he'd visited.  This too would have to remain one of his mysteries.  What is more interesting is the backstory: How did he find out about it?  What was he doing out there? It didn't seem the type of place he would gravitate to, simply to look at some names scratched on the wall.

The bridge between Ondo and the island of Kurahashi is an engineering marvel, and when the flowers adjacent are in bloom, the road can be backed up for miles. The bridge needed to be  in order to let the big Naval boats through, but there wasn't enough space to ramp the traffic up to the desired height.  Instead, they built spirals on either end, which resembles film reels that spool the celluloid loftily across the waters. Legend has it that the Heian period warrior Kiyomori had also built a bridge here, over a single night in order to woo a local beauty.  But I doubt his bridge was nearly as impressive.   

The bus route ends at Katsurahama, so I of course leave it.  This beach, another of Japan's best, has many famous allusions to the Manyoshu poetry collection, namely a diplomatic envoy that sailed from here to Korea in 736.  There is a scale-built model of their ship in a small museum nearby, and I stroll her decks, marvelling at how unpleasant the small cabins would have been, more confining even than my bus.  The Manyoshu also celebrated the 500 pine trees here and rightly so.  They line a pleasant stretch of beach, pointing their tops at the rocky cliffs above, whose quarries provided the stone work for the current Diet building in Tokyo.  A small industry has been built around the beach, and though I forego a trip to the hot springs, I do pop in briefly to a small museum, which has little of interest but for a few chalk like mammoth bones.  

What does eventually grab my attention is the Cafe Slow.  The beach bar and the Reggae music first grabbed me, but it the promise of a cold beer on a hot day that tightens the grip.  I could easily spend the rest of the day here, between dips in the sea.  But I have a lot more ground to cover.  I had intended to hitch the next section, but compromise on a taxi, as that will allow me more time to follow the example built into the cafe's name.  

My next destination is a detour of sorts.  These entries are meant to focus on history, of Richie, and of those he followed, but ultimately my own personal history becomes entangled in it all.  I have arrived at a village on Nomijima, and am standing in front of the house where my ex-wife grew up.  As we share a young daughter, this is also part of her own history, the place where her people came from.  I was able to find the house easily, as it stands across a small lane from a modest Pure Land temple with strangely, a papier-mache elephant on its veranda.  No one currently lives at the old house, though it remains in good condition, and someone could easily move in tomorrow.  Around back is a series of graves, the oldest being for a child who died back in the late Edo period.  A number of names follow, the most recent being my former father-in-law, dead just less than a year.  I call my ex and chat a while, feeling a little strange that I've seen her father's grave even before she has.  After hanging up, I pay respects to a man I barely knew, then move on.

My ex was wondering if I'd be able to hitch out of here (my only choice really), if the locals she knew as a child will stop for a strange foreigner wandering around.  I catch a ride surprisingly quickly, though it hardly counts I guess since he is from Chiba prefecture, on business for a few days but idly driving around.  I suppose that if you are an office worker these sales positions are the best deal as they allow you time to do exactly that. I have met many over the years while hitching, each of us playing out our cultural interpretations of On the Road. 

As my next boat pulls away, I see what I mistake for pandas but realize are mompe-clad women on the shore.  They may be affiliated with the oyster industry, massive here on Etajima, the farms filling every bay, and paralleling the shorelines of many islands.   Men tread cautiously across the wooden frames that suspend the still living oysters in bags below the water's surface.  In a month or so, these same oysters will begin to appear on table across the country.         

The islands around here are busy on this work day.  Those of Hiroshima Prefecture are a lot more built up than the islands of Okayama.  I reflect on Naomi Klein's concept of Shock Doctrine, and wonder if the citizens traumatized by their unique and horrific form of wartime suffering were easily manipulated into accepting massive amounts of industry that flowed in after the war in order to rebuild.  Now sadly, the environment itself looks traumatized.

A bit of nature therapy feels a bit right after the blight of industry.  The island of Ninoshima carries the nickname of Aki-no-Kofuji,, and the conical shape resembles exactly, Japan's highest and most recognizable peak.  And what are islands anyway but partially submerged mountains?  From the ship the climb promises to be steep and tough, a mere 278 meters, but hard fought.  The trail is clear and easy to follow but quite spider laden as is expected in late summer, so I carry a stick before me like a katana and bash my way through.  The final section leaves the forest finally to become exposed earth, eroded away in some places.  I rest awhile, enjoying the rare view of Hiroshima city, looking up her delta flood plain. Twin-peaked Miyajima is to the west, the oyster beds at her feet aglow in the setting sun.  

I am finding it difficult to leave the view, the surface of the sea dotted with islands in every direction.  I am coming to the end of the journey, but feel I could do this indefinitely.  Follow the sea out to Kyushu, then island hop to Korea and traverse her craggy south.  Momentum morphs into velocity, and I'm on my feet again.  My hike was meant to take one hour, but I did it just over half that time.  I'd alloted two hours on the island, but should be able to make the previous boat.  I fly down, slowed only by the odd spider webs I'd missed coming up, not taking into account that I'd be taller coming down. Midway down, I pass a groupof college students who would camp at the summit.  I envy them the sunrise they'll get before powering on.

I have a few spare minutes to circle the town, one barely hanging on.  Then I am aboard and stand on deck to dry out, on my way to Hiroshima. My feet barely have time to register that shore before they carry me onto a high speed ferry bound for Matsuyama on Shikoku far beyond. The boat act as a Shinkansen, carrying commuters in both directions. Sans ties and in shirtsleeves, in this the final month of cool biz wear, beer cans in one hand acting to counter weights to briefcases in the other.  We take in more in Kure, then whiz past factories shooting flames many stories into the air, like the Olympic torch from hell.

The sun is setting now out my carefully chosen starboard side window.  It is one of those glorious light shows that attract even the most jaded commuter, and phone cameras begin to click noisily in the circular window frames.  It has been a very long day for me.  I'll lose the light soon, but when it returns anew, it will reveal the journey to come.

On the turntable: The Clash, "London Calling"

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Knowing Tranquility XIV (Kure)

I have no other impression of Kure other than that it was an industrial military town.  I'd seen it only once before, from the deck of a boat, and the massive submarine sitting on shore confirmed my impression.  I don't usually go for military things (tending to prefer silk over iron), and that included the city's famous craft beer, packaged in a way that seems to glorify Kure's wartime legacies.  

But looking up from the bus as I disembark my eyes fall immediately on the brewery just over the river from the train station.  It takes little more to break the treaty with myself, and within minutes I am tipping back the first of a few beers I enjoyed that evening, to wash down the brewery's 'renowned' curry, which tastes...just like a curry.  The beer vindicates the place, especially their Kure Ginjo Beer, which is one of the best I've had in while.  

Befitting the military tradition here, it seems appropriate to get bombed.  I don't allow myself to drink too much, but the proprietor of the Shiomachi Kan in Mitarai had told me of a bar where you could eat dango rice cakes as you sipped some of Kure's famous sake. I enjoy a pleasant walk through an old shopping arcade, but upon finding the bar (done up with a manga motif and patronized by attendant otaku-types) I am told they only did shōchū, which isn't my thing at all.  Walking back to my hotel, I curse myself for my rookie mistake, forgetting somehow that Shiokan's use of the word 'sake' is the generic word for 'alcohol' in Japanese.   

My head forgives me in the morning.  The day proves equally bright and clear, but I leave it all too soon for the Yamato museum near the waterfront.  Again, I have no interest in a museum dedicated to war, but as a person interested in history I feel it is time to go.  Plus I am curious at how the information would be presented.  The woman selling me my ticket tells me that there was little in English, no surprise at all, for after all, to control language is to control the narrative.  The Hiroshima Peace Museum is (im)famous for the difference in tone between the Japanese and English displays, but there wasn't enough of the latter here to compare. What English there is is in the displays about life and history of Kure itself, somewhat skirting the war issue entirely.  Nothing about the naval base here, or the fact that the battleship Yamato's final mission was a suicide run.  This latter fact makes all the more moving the final letters of the men aboard.  The photos of these sailors show the faces of boys really, still carrying the sweetness of youth.  The officers in contrast look hard, resigned to a fate ordered of them by men just like them.

A few months after the Yamato was sunk, Kure itself was attacked by the Americans, an attack which sunk the rest of the majority of the remaining Japanese fleet, revenge for Pearl Harbor, but one bittersweet as it ultimately allowed the Soviets to operated freely in the Sea of Japan afterward.  

There is no mention anywhere of how many civilians were killed.  Despite, or because of the history with the war, the ones I've encountered are friendly and helpful. Donald Richie mentions the current Naval Port here during his own visit here, and how the people were sick of war.  Or at least they were in the late 1960s.  But bizarrely, the opening of the museum in 2005, and all the hype around it,  brought new life to the city itself, and references to it are simply everywhere.  But it seems fitting somehow that the kanji for Kure always looks to me someone apologizing with clasped hands, which bizarrely enough also contains part of the character for apology itself. 

On the turntable:  The Allman Brothers, "New Orleans 3/20/1971"

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Knowing Tranquility XIII (Osaki Islands, Kamagari Islands)

Mitarai lies tucked away in a small bay.  I would gush about it, but Richie already has.  I approach with some trepidation, worried it would lose the charm he found here.  I too am lucky to find things unchanged, not only from the Edo period, but from Richie's visit as well.  Throughout these wanderings I keep wondering what he saw in his day, and for the first time I find us sharing the same view.  I crisscross the town a couple of times, following the lanes laid-out like the ribs of an open fan.  There is the usual decay, but here it has a certain beauty, especially the old school, and the crumbling temple nearby.  All the rest is vibrant and alive, the residents actually moving about.  I run into one woman twice, and another one, three times.

This town too had a pleasure quarter, but of a higher grade, the feudal period courtesans that once paraded the streets.  I begin to think how ironic it is that places with an Edo period look have been better preserved (a grand generalization in a country like Japan), whereas those from Meiji have been allowed to fade.  Do we value older history than new?  Or perhaps it is political rather than cultural.  After the war, the Edo period became fashionable, as if the bushido samurai code of ethics was necessary to rebuild the country, which the west picked up in the 1980s when all of Wall Street seemed to be reading the samurai classic The Book of Five Rings.  (Equally important, many of the samurai films of the early 1960s told stories of lone swordsmen fighting a corrupt Shogunate, in an off-hand criticism of the military government during the war, and even the modern Japanese government of the time.)  Meiji values, though they too had  rebuilt the country, did so in a way that led to an ultimate apotheosis in the war itself, and therefore, could no longer be trusted.  Funny, considering that most of what we think of as being "traditionally Japanese" was created at that time.  But as I walk, all I am concerned with is today.  In a most poetic metaphor, the hands of the clock hanging above the old clock shop no longer move.     

Had that clock been correct, it would have told me it is nearing lunchtime.  I duck into Shiomachi Kan, which serves as a souvenir shop and cafe.  I talk with the proprietor over a cuppa, talking about island life and asking questions that had arisen during my walk.  I mention too how disappointed I am in myself for not staying on the island, as recently I've been opting for cheap hotels on the mainland, convenient to early morning ferries.  Far better, in hindsight, to have taken a late ferry out to the islands themselves.   

For this day at least I am through with boats.  A bus takes me along the rest of the islands in the chain, crossing high above the water on the bridges that interconnects them.  As the bus is nearly empty I moved from side to side, keeping the water close.  On Kami-kamagarijima, I jump off the bus, despite the driver telling me it is too far to walk.  Another sign of the times perhaps in modern Japan, where the elderly are advised not to walk a distance that Google maps tells me is a mere eleven minutes.  But the walk is a pleasant one, through the mikan farms and old farmhouses.  When I get to a busier road, I am able to hitch a lift for the final stretch to Kenmin-ga-hama.  This beach is considered one of Japan's best and it is easy to see why, with perfectly groomed gold sand, clear waters and swaying palms.  Beside the beach is a soccer pitch and a polo field, and further away from the water stands a row of small cottages.  Sadly the restaurant is closed due to some function so I walk back up the beach to neighboring Koi-ga-hama, a bit more down to earth with its camp sites sheltered by pines.  The heat is coming up so I roll up my trouser legs and wade into the cooling water, finding yet another reason to return to a part of the country which is quickly becoming one of my favorites.  

And Sannose on Shimo-kamagarijima completes the hat trick.  This simple row of houses near the inter-island strait has had a long and international history, formerly used as inns for the noblemen who once passed through.  The town was considered important enough to host a number of diplomatic missions in the feudal period, most notably the Koreans and the Dutch.  Evidence of these missions can be seen at the Shōtō-en, in the form of hundreds of artifacts from around the world. But it is the gardens themselves that most impress, awing even the Korean statues that bow reverently to the handful of buildings on site. 

It would be easy to spend a full day here, visiting some of the nearby galleries and proud Edo period houses.  But I have one last bus to catch.  Along the way to the busstI hear some great old classic jazz coming from Maruya cafe.  Overlooking the water, it is the perfect place to linger awhile, again to be tabled to a future date.  As it is, the owner makes a to-go panini for me, and as my bus rolls and pitches its way toward the final bridge toward Kure, I enjoy the taste of curry.  It seems fitting.

On the turntable:  The Band, "Across the Great Divide" 
On the nighttable: Diana L. Eck, "India: A Sacred Geography"

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Knowing Tranquility XII (Osaki Islands)

The Shimanami Kaido makes a large turn on Omishima Island, extending southward to Shikoku.  This of course makes far better commercial sense, as a means to flow goods and materials to the larger population base there.  But geographically speaking, the road could have continued its gradual bend to the west, connecting across a chain of islands all the way to Kure.  It takes nearly as much time to pronounce the names of the islands as it does to traverse them:  Osaki-kamijima, Osaki-shimojima, Kami-kamagarijima, Shimo-kamagarijima.  You'll note the repetition in the words 'kami' and 'shimo,' upper and lower respectively.  The kami islands are closer to Kyoto and therefore considered the superior.  Yet ironically, they seemed the economically unhealthiest of the four.

There is still a boat service at least, and I arrive early, watching an inconceivable number of large trucks piling aboard like clowns climbing into a Volkswagon.  A small speedboat pulls up next to it, and I realize then that this little one is mine.  Perhaps this service won't last long after all; the boats get smaller and smaller until poof, they disappear.  I hoist my backpack over one shoulder and walk down the gangplank, whistling the tune for Old Spice.

This particular boat undertakes a commuter run of sorts, dipping in and out of coves to pick up and drop off.  After a while I notice a pattern.  Upon approach, they will cut the engine and blow the horn, then the pilot will scan the shore to see if someone waves him in to pick up a passenger.  Otherwise, they will bob a few minutes until the actual departure time, then rush off to the next stop.  Osaki-kamijima is was historically a quarry island though no longer, so the vegetation has grown once again around the cliff-like scars in the hills, creating an attractive landscape. With the rain clouds, it is not unlike a Chinese landscape painting.  On the more natural hillsides I see mysterious white rectangles amidst the abundant mikan orchards that climb impossible heights up to the tops of the mountains themselves.  Not high mountains per se, but it is said that you can see 115 other islands from there. 

We're pulling into the next port now, Kinoe, which in the Meiji period had been renowned for its abundant pleasure quarter.  Even the vegetation on the hillsides has a certain fecund quality, thick and exaggerated in size, but that is probably just the moisture in the air.  I walk down a narrow one-lane street, which is the only thing looking old enough to be Meiji.  These had all been inns at one time, probably the houses of ill-repute that Donald Richie examines in fine detail in his book.  Little wonder he gave sex such a high amount of word count, as it is a topic he was always interested in.  He seques from there into the texture of Japanese skin, which reminds me of an essay that he wrote about Japanese tattoos.  He goes further then to discuss the decline of local festivals, which have been stripped in the modern age of their physicality, de-sexed as it were, in covering up both the virility of tattoos and any hint of sex, even that masked as fertility.  

I wonder what Ritchie would think about the natural of festivals in today's Japan, awash as it is in the torrents of tourism.  All but the most local, most private festivals have become stripped even further, packaged for the bus crowd.   I find it not worth attending any in Kyoto anymore, and I wonder if the gods to whom the festivals were once dedicated feel the same way.    

The Anti-Prostitution Law of 1956 would certainly have had a profound impact on Konoe's economy, and from the looks of things it never recovered.  Likewise the population has declined to third of what it was then.  There was a brief spike in population when Yamada Yōji brought a film crew here in 2012 to shoot his film, Tokyo Family.  Judging from the abundant photos in the ferry terminal they did a lot of set dressing to bring life to the town.  But even that has fallen into decay.  There is no sign of life here but for a small dog laying in the doorway of a run-down house that looks a few years away from abandonment. Above the dog's head is a Confederate flag hung like a curtain.

Where this narrow lane comes to an end stands a squat four story apartment building, its paint faded, the metal grills on the windows rusting into pencil-thin spikes.  The weather, and time, have not been kind to this place.  Even the hospital has closed.

I retrace my steps over to a more modern part of town.  A busy road leads through the heart of it, past all the old shops, and symbolically, out of town.  Fashion Shop Watanabe is missing the 'h' from its sign, as well as a lot of product, for half of its shelves are bare. What does remain would have no appeal to anyone under sixty.  And that is entirely intentional.  The old elementary school is missing but for its gates, the grounds beyond built upon by a care center for the elderly.  Sadly, the most picturesque thing in this part of town, a breathtaking, five-story abandoned inn, has been defaced by a large power pole directly in front.  Modernity is ruthless in its lack of aesthetic.

Over the last couple of days I've found that people down here love any excuse for a chat, even if that is simply answering questions or giving directions.  The replies are always detailed and dense and word-heavy.  It is thoughtful and certainly helpful, but certainly things could be easily condensed.  All part of island time I guess, "sit and jaw a-spell." (What do the Hawai'ians call it? Talk story?) Richie too experiences this, in a long convoluted explanation about a goddess whose name forgotten by the storyteller, who eventually becomes so obsessed with it that Richie feels disappointed at the breakdown of the pleasant chat they'd been enjoying up until then.

In that light, perhaps the saddest things I see are the benches in front of the shops on the main street, empty.  No longer enticing to the old, what with the fast moving traffic.  And the younger folks are occupied with individual pursuits, locked in a room somewhere, facing only themselves, reflected in a screen.

But that same screen later provides the name of the goddess that had eluded Richie:  Ichikishimahime, who decided ultimately to build her shrine on Miyajima rather than here, after a local bird shat on her head. Yet escape from this town is no longer so easy. A sign near the ferry terminal shows various routes, yet over half have been discontinued.  I wonder if any were those that Richie took.  Nearly fifty years later, it would be impossible to create his journey exactly, and I'm sure in another ten, I would no longer be able to recreate my own.

On the turntable: The B-52s, "Time Capsule"

Monday, September 25, 2017

Knowing Tranquility XI (Takehara)

I jump off the train in Takehara.  The town is a bit of a misnomer as the fields of bamboo are long gone.  They have been replaced at some point in history by salt, which brought a wealth to the town that still remains, in the forms of large manor houses in the old part of town, now referred to as "Little Kyoto," a moniker given to any town that has kept a predominantly traditional look.  The flip side of this is that these areas become a bit of an island themselves, making the more modern towns surrounding them look unattractive and dull.

The old town is a short walk from the station, along covered sidewalks that survive from the post-war period and puzzle me as this area surely wouldn't get much snow, and these types of embellishments are usually found in colder climes.  The charm ends there however.  The town is quiet and lifeless, though then again it is Monday.  One house had noren from Takayama, which was another puzzle.  The nicest looking house in the newer town was a modern construction that didn't quite fit with anything surrounding it, but somehow it had a more classic look than the 1950s shops held together by lethargy and aluminum siding.   

The arrow-bearing signs lead me most of the way, but their absence at a crucial junction feeds me into the old town by the side-door, as it were.  I wrap around to find myself in front of the Kasai house, whose second floor is a large open space with a small stage framed in bamboo.  The woman downstairs tells me that they often do events here, both traditional and modern.  This I find is one of the highlights of a trip to the Japanese provinces.  Whereas Kyoto is better known for showcasing Japan's classical culture, the city reeks a fair bit of formaldehyde. And what it does trot out for the tourists is so same-same it borders on tacky, like when you pull out that old traditional lamp that Auntie gave you when she comes to visit.  People in the country don't seem to feel the same pressure, and can be quite creative when it comes to using traditional forms as a springboard for something new.  On this stage I can envision a woman in a kimono playing koto, or I can envision interpretive Kathak dance of India.  And I can envision them happening at the same time.      

This fusion of elements old and new, native and foreign, can be seen in other places throughout town, in the form of cafes and galleries.  The most profound manifestation of this blending can be found in the form in a statue of Takehara born founder of Nikka Whiskey, Masataka Taketsuru and his Scottish wife Rita. (The couple were featured in the popular TV drama Massan  a few years back.)  The adjacent museum is a lovely two-story house from the Meiji period, which detracts nothing from the Edo-period look of the rest of town. 
I wander the narrow high street, duck down interconnecting lanes, and climb up to Saihō-ji temple to look out over the town from an unusual deck that is meant to resemble the real Kyoto's Kiyomizudera.  Here and again I spot yet another reference, though this one doesn't technically exist.  A popular comic called Tamayura about a group of high school girls in a photography club here in town. This has led to an increase in domestic tourists, though not today as I have the town more or less to myself.  I sit in an older-looking coffee shop to have a drink to cool myself on a very muggy day.  Above me are photos from yet another production filmed here, 1983's "The Woman who Writes Time."  In Takehara, time follows a loose script, overwriting itself across multiple eras, but somehow finding a cohesion of plot.  And the filmmakers are lucky in that they have a variety of narrative threads to follow up.   

We are already a third of the way into September now, but the humidity stays high.  There is a typhoon brewing out to sea somewhere, but it is holding all the hot air over the mainland.  It reminds me how lucky I have been so far on these island wanderings, and these flat, overcast skies above me are the first signs of bad weather.  Naturally, the very moment I think this the rain begins.  I take refuge in the Mitsumoto house, whose annex showcases the works of the Imai family, with their weird looking creatures entrapped in glaze.  They are the not the only things trapped here apparently.  I presume the woman working there is part of the family, and when she stamps my ticket, she has to first change the date on the stamp itself. So late in the day and I've been the only visitor.

I finish my visit at the Morikawa house, a large sprawling estate with copious tatami rooms.  This surfeit of empty rooms is a common feature of old Japanese manors, the architectural equivalent of a glass museum, where the joy comes from discovering minute details.  The most interesting features are usually the kitchens, where the visitor can play guessing games at the old utensils and cooking implements.  The gardens too delight, and this one has a long maple tree being tricked into color by the cooler nights of early autumn. The light red holds a fine middle ground between the dark of wood and the light patina of tatami.  And red also means stop, so I sit a while on the veranda, feeling the humidity lose its hold on the day due to the rain, and the breeze bringing yet another change.  As it always does. 

On the turntable:  Jovelina Perola Negra, "Luz do Repente"
On the nighttable: Wendy Doniger,  "The Hindus: An Alternative History "

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sunday Papers: Jean Cocteau

"I've always preferred mythology to history. History is truth that becomes an illusion. Mythology is an illusion that becomes reality."

On the turntable:  The Cranberries, "No Need to Argue"

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sunday Papers: Robert Louis Stevenson

"No one knows the stars who has not slept, as the French happily put it, à la belle étoile.  He may know all their names and distances and magnitudes, and yet be ignorant of what alone concerns mankind,—their serene and gladsome influence on the mind.  The greater part of poetry is about the stars; and very justly, for they are themselves the most classical of poets."

On the turntable:  Depeche Mode, "Black Celebration"

Friday, September 08, 2017

Dotting the Eyes

"Where the bloody hell are you?"  Such was the tag line in an A$180 million Australian advertising campaign, which hoped to lure back the Japanese tourists who had once flocked down under.  Not a race known for irony, the Japanese didn't bite. 

I felt the same call every time I rode a train past Mt. Ikoma.  Wes and I had left our north-south traverse of the mountain unfinished for a surprising five full years.  And even getting back to the funicular station was a challenge, due in part to Kintetsu railway taking great pride in their passenger's skill in orienteering train stations devoid of signage.  Bizarrely enough, Wes wound up on a train I would have taken had my ESP skills been better honed, and up the funicular we went.  

The Ikoma sign posters must also subcontract with Kintetsu.  It took us a few minutes to find the trail, and over the next hour, we were constantly second guessing ourselves.  It had been a while since I had hiked this close to a major city, and the sheer density of trails was labyrinthian.  We circled a cemetery so long that I worried we'd eventually join its population.  

Our time under the trees proved too short as we were eventually fed onto a paved road that would lead us all the way down to Takaida station at the mountain's southern extreme.  Luckily there was little traffic, but for the cacophonous campaign cars politicking, including one guy on a bull-horn mounted bicycle.  A woman shrieked "Please support me!"to us in passing, and overcome by the absurdity of it I turned and rebutted, "But you people won't let me vote!" 

We'd only walked for two hours but it was time again for the train.  A long sit in the middle of a hiking day is dangerous, as the laws of inertia make it difficult to start up again.  We debarked listlessly at Ikoma Station to begin our true hike of the day.  A series of steps led from near the station all the way up to the Hōzan-ji temple, one of the more sacred sites in the area.  The traces of this route's long history were easy to see, in the form of older inns and tea shops that had once been part of the pilgrimage.  But as is often the case in Japan, change was being enforced upon the area, and the perfectly sufficient older stones steps were being given the root canal treatment, replaced with concrete.  Wes railed at this awhile, as this was his home mountain, and this route one of his favorites.  Thus we continued to huff and puff up the hill, Wes' exhalations taking the form of colorful words. 

Thankfully the spiritual foundation of the temple was still sound.  It truly was one of the most picturesque in the region, one still mercifully free of the tourist invasion.  The handful of people about were sincere in their devotions, which was equally true of Shigisan Temple which we'd skirted earlier on.  The scent of incense lay thick on the late summer air, the song of cicada heavy in the forest.  The temple grounds were rich with history and symbolic statuary, its centerpiece being the main hall with its overlapping gables, all crowned in cypress bark.  There was also a puzzling European building from the Meiji period, apparently a guest house.  

We continued up the steps in a light-falling rain.  The mountain was infamous for the amusement park on the crest, itself hemmed in by a new forest of cellular phone antennae.  We found the marker for the true peak, ringed as it was by a kiddle train. The attendant was kind enough to allow us to literally step over the train and even shot our summit photo for us, Wes and I looking quite the couple in our (unintentionally) matching T-shirts and backpacks.       

The ever increasing rain and  the idea of an early train home spurred on a rapid descent.  A bit too rapid perhaps as Wes took a hard fall midway down.  All appeared intact, including his sense of humor.  Despite being popular with hikers, the trail was steep and rocky underfoot, and overall, rather bland.  Here and again I'd catch a whiff of the sweet smell of decay, which, in a bizarre parallel to our walk five years ago, sent me on a Proustian journey into childhood, to memories of picnics and sticky soft drinks spilled in the sun, and the accompanying attraction of bees.  I thought that Japanese children could never have such memories, as the people are so tidy, and would mop up such a spill as it occurred.

Our finish line for the day was Hiraoka Shrine, its main torii gate in particular.  A series of workmen were laying a new one into deep postholes, shoring up the foundation with sand atop which concrete would later be laid.  The foreman explained that this will make it easier for the eventual replacement, one hundred years further on.  I found this optimism refreshing, as I looked back at the mountain, a once sacred relic heavily fondled and abused.  The question remained:  Will there be a Shinto in 100 years?  And more importantly, will there even be that many Japanese?  

And then we all will be the ones asking, "Where the bloody hell are you?"

On the turntable:  The Band, "Music from Big Pink"         
On the nighttable:  Harry Ricketts, "Rudyard Kipling:  A Life"