Why are you upset? You should be happy that you...

The dichotomy of happiness

Why are you upset? You should be happy that you didn’t spread the poison of your selfish and hollow life onto another. How many times will it take before you realize all you can do is bring pain to those who are innocent enough to have faith in you?


[Sharp-eyed readers will notice the incredible, stabbing irony of my right wrist. I have been full of contradictions and lies for going on ten years.]

お疲れ様です。無事に帰りました。なみさん、今日本当に有難うございました。なみさんと皆さんにとってもお世話になっています。貴方は色んな用事があったんと思いますが、かなり私のことを守って助かった。恥ずかしいです。旦那さんもお祭りの心を教えて上げました。貴方たちとお母さんをありがたいんです。下村さんたちもいつも私のことをよく助かっているんから、どうもです。今年私は特にお神輿うまく出来たないの気がしますので、負けました。どこかで間違えた分かりませんけど、恐らく気合が足りなかった。最近仕事でもラブでも落ちて無茶苦茶なっていますから、本当に半分の人間の気がします。今日フォーカスして本当に頑張りたかったと思ってたが、だめだったと思います。それで、自分で色んな問題があるから、町会民にその悪い影響写ったから、ごめんなさいでした。帰っているときによく考えたことは「だれのために生きていますか。」やっぱり、仏教の魂[any moral human, actually…]を考えると、となりの人のために生けていないとなりません。自分をリスペクトを出来なくでも、国民の為に生活をしなかったら、全部はだめです。私は「カラオケ行こう」を言ったときに、貴方はぴったり返事したと思います。「下村さんたちは僕たちの為にケアーしているから、お先に他の所へいくと失礼」。そんなとおりです。すぐ貴方はそのこと言って私は反省しました。私はわがままでした。ずっとわがままでした。自分の体が痛いとお神輿をいきなり休憩しました。自分の痛みは関係ないですね。みさんよく言ったのは、お神輿は町のためです。だれでも一人のためではない。区民が集めて他の人間のためを頑張らなければ意味がない。What was I doing today? I don’t know. I wanted to help everyone so much, I worked hard to bake my cake. I wanted to do a good job at omikoshi. I tried hard to not get yopparai, because I wanted to listen to other people’s lives, and not think of myself. I’m sorry that I felt lonely and became selfish.  Thank you for everything.  I hope to repay your kindness.本当にお世話になっています。

In Catholic school, or somewhere along the way, I was taught that you can’t really love anyone else until you can learn to love yourself. The same goes for respect, I suppose.

You are not living, if you do not live for others. To live for oneself is self-defeating, and is surely the means to the end of the human race. I am guilty of such a treason so many times under a number of guises. Can you live for others while being utterly disgusted with your own mortal failings? Is that the path to happiness? I’m at the point where I realize I will only hurt anyone who has the innocent faith to believe in me. At least the knowledge of my own terminal condition is known. Once you’re honest about the way things really are, it’s mercifully much harder to play the fool and infect anyone else.

How old do I have to get before I can start taking full responsibility for my actions?

He shouted out his last word
And he stumbled through the yard
And she shattered her last china plate
And spun off in the car
When he lunged onto the hood
She stopped to tell him she’d been wrong
He was thrown head over heels
Into the traffic coming on

But then all is fair in love

Did you get my other letters
Sometimes I think I oughta call
Cause you know I often wonder
If you open them at all
Every couple nights or so y’know
You pop into my dreams
I just can’t get rid of you
Like you got rid of me
Oh but I send my best
Cause God knows you’ve seen my worst

But then all is fair in love
(All this breathing in, never breathing out)

I guess she made her way
Through the mob too late to hear him say
That he’d gotten all he’d wanted
A crowd to watch him bear the pain
He’d been keeping in – so what –

All is fair in love

I’m at the immigration office right now, which...

Grovel, fool, before the Ministry of Justice!

I’m at the immigration office right now, which is ever so conveniently located at the very tip of Tokyo, right on the bay near Shinagawa port. I guess if you get denied admission they want it to be a short trip back to the boat. After taking any number of expensive trains down to the harbor, you have the option of waiting and riding a bus to the office, or walking about fifteen minutes through drab lots of shipping companies and towering skyscrapers for housing who knows what kind of rich people (seems rather inconvenient to me, but I guess if you have enough money to live down here, you have a really nice car, and/or a chauffeur).

In any case, I am here to apply for extension to my visa, which is set to expire in about two weeks’ time. Now that I think about it, I probably should have done this before I went to France, since it takes two weeks to three months for processing, supposedly. However, I was so busy with getting my last project to master, there really wasn’t much time to think about it, and I guess I assumed it wouldn’t take too long since I received my last visa in short form, and this is a just a mere continuation of my work. If I do stay in the country past the end of the month, however, I could get into big trouble and forfeit my chances of ever coming here for work again, which would be most heinous. Hopefully it won’t come to this. I guess we’ll cross that bridge (ha ha) when we get to it.

In any case, I did my best to arrive here in a timely fashion this morning, and when I arrived there were 184 people in line ahead of me. It seems that applications are received (not processed) at the rate of about 1.3 a minute, and there are six counters. I guess I may be here until at least one-thirty or two. This is not very encouraging, but at least I am confident that I crossed all my Ts and dotted all my Is. I have, in addition to application form and registration documents, my work contract, a certified payment report, and a certified document verifying my company’s existence. There isn’t anything I could conceive of beyond this that they would need, since I filed my graduate degree the first time I applied for the visa. Now it’s just the waiting game. Luckily I remembered my PDA, keyboard, journal back log, and copy of A History of Japan for review. No shortage of things to do, I just wish I hadn’t forgotten my phone now. Email would be nice. Actually, when I was riding the train this morning I was looking at the ads for my ill-fated Vodafone, and thought about how last year having TV in the phone was a big selling point. I’ve probably only used the one in mine about four times, mainly for watching baseball games out of the corner of my eye when at my desk and too lazy to turn around and look at the main TV. Right now one girl is watching daytime drama on hers, and I feel a little envious. Then I remember that the analog TV drains the phone’s battery in about 40 minutes, and don’t feel so envious anymore.

It’s kind of a funny sounding name to me, The Ministry of Justice. I guess I watched too many action shows when I was a kid, because it makes me think too much of some dudes in flowing robes and laurelled wreaths towering far over me, in a darkened hall wielding ignominious scrolls and demanding complete submission. If you think about it, that’s not too far from the truth.

[Around noon I called in to work to check up on status and afterwards went downstairs to the convenient store to get something to eat. Just by coincidence I picked the checkout line that sold revenue stamps, at which point it dawned on me that I had completely forgot about the service fee and form for renewal. Boy was I lucky. I actually feel a little queasy now thinking about what would happen if after waiting half a day I got up there and found out I had forgotten part of my application. Whew. Maybe its good karma for returning that wallet last night.]

[Upon handing in my forms to the harried woman behind the counter, it came to my attention that I don’t actually need the stamp until I get the application approved. Hah-huh.]

We’re doing it for a shit load of money!...

We’re not doing this for money!

We’re doing it for a shit load of money! Not! Today when I was riding my crippled bicycle home from work and pondering whether I would make it to Lotteria before it closed, I came across a rather large leather pouch on the sidewalk. Of course this caught my interest so I poured on the brakes and after stopping, walked back to investigate more closely. It was indeed a wallet, with a vast number of somethings bundled up inside. Two women waiting for taxis eyed me quasi-surreptiously as I picked it up and looked around. They had to have seen it, since it was all of about twelve feet from them, the lone article on a wide swath of asphalt. However, in general it seems the local thing to do is ignore what isn’t directly your business, so they didn’t bother checking it out or say anything to me after I picked it up.

So I rode back down Yamate-dori to the nearest police box to drop it off, but as usual the Hatsudai 2-chome station was empty, with a sign to call if there was trouble (as the officers on duty were patrolling). I didn’t feel like calling and waiting for someone to show up, so I rode on to the Opera City box where there almost always is someone at the desk. Sure enough, there was, and the middle-aged man present pulled up a chair for me. Like most impersonal things, turning in lost property required quite a detailed process. He put on his gloves (which looked a hell of a lot like FootJoys), and proceeded to carefully pull out and separate all of the contents, cleaning and straightening up the bills, sorting the IDs from the notes and receipts, etc. After about five or ten minutes he asked me where exactly where I had found it, which I did an excellent job of describing since I know the west side of Tokyo so well. Following this he recorded the time, and then my name, address, and phone number. While this seemed a little odd to me since I just wanted to drop it off, it didn’t bother me as I wasn’t in a hurry anymore and I hadn’t done anything wrong.

As it turns out the reason for taking all my information is two-fold. First, in case the owner suspects I took more cash than was found in it (how they could ever prove this though I have no idea, since it would be his word against mine, and if I really wanted to steal the contents I wouldn’t give it to the police). Second, and more importantly, was so I could claim my reward.

What?! Reward? Just for finding someone’s wallet? Yes, it seems that by Japanese law the finder of a lost wallet or purse is entitled to 10-21% of its cash contents for its return, in addition to whatever thanks the rightful owner wishes to bestow for such timely assistance. However, without blinking I told the officer kindly that I didn’t need any compensation for the task, and I really had no speck of doubt in my heart for doing so. It just didn’t make sense to me; what I did was nothing more than common sense and being a good person, to my mind. He asked me several times if it was really okay, and I assured him that it was. When asked if it was all right for the owner to be told my phone number in case the owner of the wallet wanted to know, I wasn’t quite sure what to say. On one hand, I really couldn’t imagine what he would do with my phone number other than call to say thank you, but my unfortunate ingrained suspicion of people trying to sell things or use my PII to solicit junk mail was too strong, so I just said that I didn’t think there would be any reason for him to contact me, so I chose to keep it confidential.

In the end, the policeman explained to me exactly what they would do with it, and how the owner could reclaim it, to all of which it seemed he kind of wanted my confirmation, as if by finding the wallet I had some sort of say over what was to be done with it. In any case, I said ok, thank you, and did my best to return the folding chair I was sitting on before the officer could stop me, and went on my merry way home.

Nine years ago, on nearly the same day, I was at Senior Week in Ocean City with my friends from high school. Near our hotel I spotted a seemingly abandoned backpack on the shore, next to a beach towel and pair of sandals. It remained there until late in the evening, until nearly everyone else had gone home. The smell of the goods and the exotic nature of the materials excited and fascinated me, so I took the bookbag, sandals, and a pair of oversized Birkenstocks (leaving only the ratty towel behind). In the bag was a pair of cheap sunglasses, an audio tape labelled “Mix for Melissa”, and a set of keys to a Camaro. I kept them all, without really thinking or caring about the consequences. I even walked through a couple parking lots pushing the trunk release button on the key fob, to see if any of the cars would open.

Though I suppose some fervent alumni of the University of Virginia would say that four years of the Honor System at Mr. Jefferson’s university changed me, I think my ethics just developed a little late, around the same time my hand-eye coordination did. Though I had a great number of things stolen from me while at CMU and shortly after coming to Japan, it still doesn’t seem like fear of further retribution that drives me to do such things. Nowadays, it’s just second nature to help. It’s the least I can do, anyway, as a greatly benefiting member of society.

Charles De-Gaulle is a bit of a drag as far as airports...

Yes, yes, home already, yes

[Last train in Paris, RER B to CDG Terminal 2.]

Charles De-Gaulle is a bit of a drag as far as airports go. I arrived at the station off of the RER B train, but the transfer at Gare du Nord didn’t require a separate ticket. So since there are no fare adjustment machines at the platform, I had no apparent option to get out other than go look for a ticket counter inside the gate at another exit. Fortunately the turnstiles at all the Parisian train stations I’ve encountered are pitiful, so I used my slim body to slide sideways through the luggage vent. It’s not that I wanted to stiff RATP, I had fifty euros left, but I didn’t have the time or the patience.

I passed some very good smelling Pizza Hut on the way in, but I figured I should get to the gate first since I’d never left here before. What a mistake. It took no time at all, maybe five minutes; immigration was a joke, and the gate a mere twenty feet past the security checkpoint. Without a morsel to eat in sight, now I have an hour and a half wait with only the iPod and my notebook. I wish I hadn’t checked my cheese.

So, we were able to debunk several nonsensical stereotypes while in Paris. First of all, no one was rude to me, despite having my American flag jacket on half of the time. Waiters in run-of-the-mill cafes weren’t exceptionally cheery, but apparently they’re that way to everyone. Secondly, nothing was particularly smelly (other than the cheese, which it’s supposed to be). On the contrary, this is the most artificially nice smelling place I’ve ever visited. To be honest, it was quite interesting, though I wonder if I would ever get sick of it.

I saw my first subway rodent, a darling little mouse at Richilieu, but unfortunately it disappeared before I could get my camera out. The air was pretty filthy though, and my nose had a hard time keeping up with purification duty. The food, however, was excellent. I had French, Italian, Indian, and Middle Eastern, and all of it was spectacular, if a bit heavy at times. The Italian in particular was to spectacular, replete with succulent cheeses and filling, doughy pizzas. I averaged 1.2 bottles (1 litre) of wine and five hundred grams of dairy products daily, and I can only hope the little slices of heaven that I tucked away in my ruck don’t spoil in the heat I’m sure that I’ll have to go through before getting the power back on in my refrigerator.

Three twenty-six. Cold. The rain has stopped for...

Last night in Paris

Three twenty-six. Cold. The rain has stopped for a moment, for the piano full images and a walk back to the hotel. How can I always, think moments after, that I didn’t look close enough? To really look, and see your eyes, your face, and the gentle strength you hide behind, to let me believe that things will be okay. It’s never okay saying goodbye, so that’s why we say, “See you soon.” But soon always seems oceans away.

Was it really a week? Why does my body have to be so frail, so fragile that I couldn’t stay awake and just stare into your eyes for those last three hours? That’s what I wanted to do. That’s what I should have done. Now all the cafes and parks and museums are closed. Now only the empty, puddled streets are open, and they are open with no man on them but me.

I came, I saw, and then I found myself leaving again; with no way to keep track of days, hours, and minutes. I had no means to hold all those fantastic sights and emotions in a rolled bundle. They just slip out of the paper, like flowers turned to dust and caught on the wind.

I miss my home, I miss my bed, I miss the hottokenai pansies that sit by my window. But what I really miss, is the today that is gone, for tomorrow will push it out of sight, and into the folds of my mind.

Japan is my home…I know I’ve said it...

Monday morning

Japan is my home…I know I’ve said it dozens of times before, but every time that I’m away, sooner or later I start to think about it, and I am submerged in that sweet, aching whirlpool of missing “home”. Even if I’m visiting family in America, my soul knows that it is far from the place of my unmei, my destiny, and I need to go home. I need to go home to the place of ubiquitous karaoke, of conveyer belt sushi bars, of construction workers who meticulously sweep up debris and rubbish from around their site, and direct you with bows along the detour. It’s my home of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, of ichigoichie and SMAP. It’s a shining land of quiet people with hearts boiling inside; boiling, dreaming, screaming, scheming for expression… good natured people who excite over quadrupeds who pose standing on their rear legs, people who ganbatte no matter what their jyoutai is.

I am in that land, I will never leave it. I will put in my strength, my soul, and my blood. I will pay one hundred percent of my patience and devotion– embrace me, love me, caress me nihon. I am your lost and stranded child, let me learn of your ways and follow you hand-in-hand, through the narrow, cobblestone streets of Kyoto. Forgive my sins and love my passion, for I love you, and am lost when we are apart.

What is a young man anyway? Is that still me?...

A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man

What is a young man anyway? Is that still me? Am I out of that age bracket? My mother had been married for half a dozen years and would soon be pregnant with me when she was my age, but what is tonight for me? A cheese hangover, euro coins burning a hole in my pocket and a plastic bottle of coke to show for it. Below the wrangling youths holler, and above I wonder if I shouldn’t be out photographing neon or trying to make friends in Bastille with five singular words of French.

It was a lousy book, unfortunately. The beginning was all right but the second half was so goddamn preachy I may not even have finished it. It’s too bad, because Dubliners was wonderful. Even though I have black and white stock, it’s time for a little voyeurism.

What do we have here? Mel Gibson in a priest’...

Media with no choice

What do we have here? Mel Gibson in a priest’s collar praying over his unconscious son. Why can’t everyone just use subtitles? Dubbing is the worst way to localize video. The fewest people can actaully enjoy the film this way. I think the one channel (and volume setting) frozen on my TV must be revolving, because yesterday it was a French Baywatch knock-off, this afternoon it was dubbed Kim Possible (Disney), and now Signs? Ooh, coming up next, a dubbed version of Blade. I think that may be okay because the dialogue is pretty irrelevant in even an intelligible language.

Yesterday was not a very good day for pictures,...

Rainy Days and Mondays

Yesterday was not a very good day for pictures, which is to say I got almost none taken. It has grown overcast, and the clouds didn’t melt away by early afternoon like they did during the week. The rain kept me sleepy, and a bottle of Bordeaux didn’t make going out any more appealing. But, I had nice French food for dinner, and I got some CDs at Marche aux Puces, along with another little turtle for my mother. Today is cold and grey at nine o’clock, and I’m a little concerned the weather may not improve for the rest of my stay. While the boring colors can be partly circumvented by shooting in black and white, it still means no shadows, making it much harder to take interesting pictures. I’ll have to hope for exceptional subjects and extra strong composition on my part.

I’m going to cull the mundanity of my experiences’ ruffled edges and speak briefly of things done and felt. Pairs smells of chemicals, perfume and cologne, the air clogs the nostrils with filtering stuff, the people are many, with races in accord (on the surface at least): Jews and Tunisians, Chinese and ancestral French. The people are harried and hurried, in some ways more than the Japanese. Subway doors open before the trains stop, some while lurching, some slowing smooth as silk. Tunnels between platforms snake and snarl, insulation and concrete rot from the ceiling and only the same two dozen advertisement posters are plastered everywhere. Pierre Perret of fifty years. Sony Ericsson has Christina Aguilera on phones, and snarling men with bad teeth crush soccer balls while shredding nets. Museums abound and so do tourists, people love sausages. The gardens with sittable grass are rare and police whistle and shout to drive the youth from Luxembourg at a perfectly sunny eight forty-five. Rare toilets cost money and small children zip by on rollerblades or carrying dingy stuffed animals. People smile and stare, always saying good day and good bye. Expect no tip but no service from blue collar boys dropping off cups of exquisite coffee. Everyone has an opinion and many express it with loud voices and waving hands.

Running around, this is a crazy, crazy, trip where I’m doing exactly as I said I would: nothing but being and seeing.

Stories and centuries of dead and for freedom of backpackers and no English speaking. I’m sorry, it’s my fault. As I said you catch more flies with honey, but me oh cheese, wondrous mountains of cheese and a good two bottles of wine me oh my, if only Monoprix was open on Sundays.

I didn’t want to think that jet lag would...

Passion, artists, and communication

I didn’t want to think that jet lag would really affect me coming to Europe, since it was a day flight and I’d arrive right before bedtime. The first day I woke up easily at around 5:30 and just bided my time on the bunk until a reasonable hour to arise. The second day I woke up a little later, but still had no trouble in getting out of bed. However, each night I seem to be getting more and more exhausted. Today was a bit more of a challenge to wake up, with the familiar grogginess that I’m so often fighting against back at home. I wish I knew the discrete causes for such laborious mornings so I could remedy the situation. There must be some combination of food intake and the timing of it, coupled with a regimen of exercise or sleep preparation that can eliminate this. In any case it’s 9:30 now so I don’t get the free breakfast and will spend my requisite forty-five minutes before showering (hair) writing and collection my effects as today I migrate to a single room at the hotel Royal Voltaire in the 11th.

Yesterday I visited Luxembourg Park for the second time, despite the freaky orthogonal trees, because it’s been hard to find grass that you can really lay down on. On the way out last evening in search of food, I came across an incredibly passionate filmmaker whose pathos amplified his limited English ability to collosal levels.

He first described to me his desire to get a grocery store deal that would put his art into millions of cellular phones across Europe. His struggles with a producer telling him that he needed to improve his marketability were familiar and tragic, and I was veritably transfixed as he proceeded to explain really the entire plot summary of The King of Comedy in incredible detail. He spoke of De Niro and Peckinpah, Hoffman and Voight, and I was moved and impressed by his soliloquy of film. Like a freight train gathering momentum he went on, only occasionally pausing ever so briefly to ask the more functional English word for some complicated, esoteric French noun whose Latin root I could parse.

It still seems kind of depressing that it’s quite possible to have a full day exhaust you to the point of feeling a strong urge to rest before it even gets dark. I’m thinking about going to the market at Port de Clignacourt, even though it’s already past the suggested visiting time of eight in the morning. If only the shower queue wasn’t three men deep.

[While reading, listen to the sounds of my first...

Republique

[While reading, listen to the sounds of my first Parisian subway ride (1MB). This woman’s voice was so beautiful and full of unspoken words that I was taut with emotion by the time she left.]

Yesterday was an assortment of experiences, nearly all subdued and inconsequential. However, somehow I stumbled into a fit of paranoia at Luxembourg Park at dusk. It was weird, like the rush of fear and lack of control that occasionally follow the mixing of narcotics, though all I had was cheap wine. I suppose it could be called an anxiety attack. I’m not sure if it was chemical or stress-induced. I suppose the answer is probably, “Yes.” In any case, it was disturbing and has left me feeling guilty and insecure, as if I drank way too much and made an ass of myself, even though absolutely nothing happened.

Now I’m sitting on a bench in front of the Republique and wishing I’d brought my jacket and tall socks. It’s nowhere near as warm today as yesterday, and as of eleven it remains overcast, feeling very much of autumn in New England.

There are no open container laws that I can tell, and trash cans (bags) are in abundance. I am frustrated but gradually loosening. I think that I didn’t have any expectations for this to be a relaxing vacation, I only hoped for blue skies and sunshine to cast a lace net of crisp shadows over all of my photographs. I want to explore, and tumble loosely over the delicacies of almost not being, like a sigh of release and acquiescence in the middle of flexing practice. To stretch and crumble, I am cold and flowers are artificially installed, like at Disneyland. So much disrespect saddens and is reflected in me. Who/what do I disrespect? Me. At least there’s a NY style pizzeria every forty feet.

The sun is high above disturbingly sculpted trees...

Nighttime in the garden of fraternity

The sun is high above disturbingly sculpted trees and I am at night? It’s nearly eight o’clock and I’m laying in grass as if it were four-thirty back home. I have no idea what a day this long must do to the human body. I grew up in a land of summer nights called in at six o’clock when it grew dark. If I had this many hours of sunlight I’d imagine myself a scholarly and athletic powerhouse, dedicating a hard eighty percent of my life to the noble pursuits of academia and sport.

It’s hard to function in a land where at first glance I should understand everyone, but instinct fails me and I stumble over words true but inappropriate, with the cadence and emphasis of Japanese. I’ve poured over French conversation books for weeks but with no real experience it’s nearly useless in actual situations. When a curly-haired youth asked me for a light several minutes ago, I was at a loss until he made an unmistakable flicking gesture. I then croaked out a “oui, oui”, instead of a more textbook, “Voila, Monsieur.” It will take far more than a few days for me to jettison all the expectation pent up in me for Caucasians to speak my mother tongue.

I’m fifteen ways confused as I lay about and find myself in a land where things are so familiar that the inconsistencies shock me to the core. The buildings may resemble parts of Manhattan and Frisco, the sun may linger through the park all day, the people are emphatic and serious, but I am beneath orthogonal trees and in a sea of expressive, body-clutching lovers, and more than a little dazed. It might be all that wine, and just a little jet lag.

Do you want a beer or something from the kitchen?

“Do you want a beer or something from the kitchen?”

That’s what the girl on the bunk below me asked her traveling companion before she headed out. It’s 7:35. This is pretty cool. I’m in a third-floor shared room on a bunk in the corner (as I always have needed to be since first year of college), and there are a group of birds, maybe finches, chirping outside my window. Daylight pours through the tar-splattered skylight over my bed, and in the distance a jet sets off to who knows what centuries’ old European city.

Europe is such a funny word. It always made me think of syrup. I wonder what its etymology is? So far my experience in France tells me that things are much more colorful here than in the United States. The hauntingly bare RER B train last night was furnished in garish blue, red, and yellow, with scratched graffiti marring virtually ever translucent surface. My room has a sloping roof, and acrylic-flecked burnt sienna walls, with an orange door and two hacked, rough equivalents of i-beams spanning the space in front of the exit, much like the exposed skeleton of some petrified giant. The floor is blue vinyl that reminds me of the pediatrician where we went until I was voting age. It catches the light from the pull-open window and I can see scraggly, potted evergreens in front of windows across the courtyard.

Goldeneye did come on again during the flight yesterday. Three times in fact which I half-watched while conversing with the lady sitting in my aisle. She was from Japan, and oddly enough on a Golden Week holiday that statistically mirrored mine: the same flights, same rows, same five days in France. Although my Japanese is at a comfortable point where I can talk about almost anything fairly simple, it wasn’t absolutely necessary in this case as she had spent nearly three years studying abroad in France and England. It was nice to have someone to talk to, it made the flight go a lot faster, and I can always do with another friend.

The hostel smells like coffee, or maybe all of Paris does at this hour. “Free breakfast” is from eight to nine-thirty. That beer the girl was talking about is starting to sound pretty good.

As Brad Pitt observes in Fight Club, the reason...

Carefully crafted slogans and smiling faces

As Brad Pitt observes in Fight Club, the reason they put oxygen masks on airplanes is:

[because] oxygen gets you high. In a catastrophic emergency, you’re taking giant panicked breaths. Suddenly you become euphoric, docile. You accept your fate. It’s all right here. Emergency water landing – 600 miles an hour. Blank faces, calm as Hindu cows.

I’m a little dazed that it’s actually happening, but I’m on my way to France. I’ve never been to Europe, though my grandparents saw much of it at the tail end of the Cold War era when I was a boy. Those were the days when you could go all the way to the boarding gate to say goodbye to someone, and often even had a chance to run along through the terminal and see them in the plane at the window, until a wall of glass would ultimately drive two young lovers apart.

I flew to the Ozarks with my grandparents for my great-grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. I think I was six. I remember it was my first time on a plane and I say by the window, which unfortunately made me air sick. Luckily I got past all of that and rarely have trouble nowadays. It seems unthinkable how sheltered my life would be otherwise.

Someone asked me the other day if I could do a British accent. The problem is that I don’t think I’ve ever even heard a real British person talk who wasn’t in a movie. SO leaving James Bond and Monty Python aside, I don’t believe I have a reference point. This left me quite surprised when I boarded the plane and had all these smiling British people greeting me. To be honest I know very little in the way of useful things about the country of my forefathers, but this first impression sure made me feel welcome. After traveling to so many East Asian countries where I have to learn a new bunch of tones and character sets, coming to a new English-speaking country almost seems too easy. I’m completely prepared to fall flat on my face as far as French is concerned. Despite several months’ lunch time study of grammar, I doubt it’s left much impact. Maybe two days’ of immersion will snap me into the correct, throaty pronunciation.

Another sticky point that I’ll mention only once is my nationality causing problems. I’ve been told that I look American more times than anything else, and I’m certainly not hiding it today with my “I (Heart) NY” t-shirt and my standard travel jacket, the 2000 Structure jeans jacket with an American flag on the right arm. Oh well, at least I’m honest. I’m guessing people will be assholes to me if that’s their nature no matter what I wear. I’m resolved to make the best of it and be an ambassador of goodwill for my country and be all smiles the whole week. Now if I can just get selected scenes from European Vacation out of my mind.

I’ve been meaning to finish uploading music to my iPod. I’ve had it for five months now and still not processed all of my music, particularly electronica and pop. I kind of want some upbeat 70s and 80s fare right now. However, to compromise I’ve been listening to Oasis, since this is British Airways after all, and I do have an eighty minute connection at Heathrow. Another amusing travel tidbit is that British Airways must have the same in flight caterer as Air China, because I think I heard that the options for today’s lunch are beef or beef. The cabin smells like the Giant Food that Mom used to go to.

People want to make recommendations and give advice, it’s only natural. However, after hearing the same thing twenty times (even from the same person) it’s hard not to become just a little paranoid. I’ve been told about professional pickpockets so many times I think I’m going to go crazy. I know people mean well and all, but it’s hard to enjoy a vacation if you have to feel like you’re going to be robbed blind, especially at the markets. I suppose it’s remotely reassuring that I have very little of value worth taking, aside from my electronics, which are always going to be in front of me in my camera bag. I’d like to see someone try and take my tripod, though, just so I can club them with it. I wonder if my hotel room or my knapsack is a safer place for my many rationed envelopes of miniature, colored currency?

Sean Bean has a regular column in BA’s High Life magazine and aside from bemoaning the state of American professional sports, he mentioned how useful dumbwaiters are when you have the “company of a young lady” in your hotel room. Goldeneye is playing on select routes apparently. If only I were so lucky.

Listening to Live Forever, I started thinking about when the CD came out. Music is remembered by the photographic image of the back of the album cover. At first I thought 1997, but now, of course that was Be Here Now. Definitely Maybe was 1993. That’s thirteen years ago, fifty percent of my time on this planet. Fortunately, my life seems to be moving with a great deal of acceleration. Imagine what I’ll be doing thirteen years from now…

It seem as though I lucked out, Goldeneye was playing on one of the fifteen-some channels of programming available. Unfortunately, I missed the first twenty minutes or so, and the very somber post-baccarat scene, but the remaining portion of the movie was quite enjoyable. I think it has to be tied with OHMSS as my favorite Bond. After a six-year hiatus, Bond was back with a fresh face and no expectations. This provided Brosnan with the opportunity for his driest and most Dalton-esque Bond. Something that works out very with the sorted, tense relationship with Sean Bean’s character. Tony and I have nearly all the lines committed to memory. The game was also tuned perfectly and the highlight of Rare’s portfolio, in my opinion. When my mother gave me a Panasonic TV/VCR combo for that first Christmas of college, my roommate and I had our fates sealed: we were doomed to endless sessions of four-player License to Kill in the temple with the Dostovei (Dostoyevsky), the “Man’s Gun.” If only the movie’ll come on again, I can watch it in its entirety, and speak over the lines as they’re delivered along the way…

The noodle restaurant on the right is one of my...

High life

The noodle restaurant on the right is one of my most cherished Tokyo traditions. I have been going to it and scoring quickly prepared three dollar bowls of piping hot buckwheat and wasabi from the kindly old men and ladies for four years, every time I trek out to Akihabara for geek indulgence.

Somehow about two hours before the fact, I seem to have procured twelve straight days of vacation time. Though I will be in Paris or transit from for only eight, so four days are mine alone to prepare for the trip, play Final Fantasy X, and catch up on some things that have been nagging me, most importantly my wounded bicycle (more on that another time). After getting my wheels up and running in somewhat usable condition, I took off to Akiba since I needed to stock up on memory cards and camera supplies before the big trip to Europe. I did manage in just under two hours, some rather nice browsing through the chop shops on the west side of Chuo-dori, as well as a trip to Yodobashi for film, lens cleaner and a blower. Since it was still light on the way back I decided to take my sweet time and picked my way through Soto Kanda and up several flights of stairs to Kanda Myoujin. On my way I got to photograph a very lazy cat, the best shots of which are probably on the TMax and will have to wait a couple weeks before getting to a ready-for-online format.

As seen in the lower right, even religious institutions apparently have to pay the bills, but here it’s hard to decide whether the installation of vending machines next to the purification basin is more the eyesore or insurrection.

After that I wiggled and wove my way north of Sotobori-dori, since I was hungry for some unfamiliar scenery. This of course let my heart lead me to Kouhinata, one of the nicest neighborhoods inside the Yamanote Line. If I’m ever lucky enough to have a family and live in the smack center of Tokyo, it may very well be there. After picking my way through the serene school-zones and humbly warm stone houses, I let the wheel follow another instinct and made my way farther northwest towards Edogawabashi, and then west along Waseda and eventually meeting the southern fork of navigational bellwether the Kanda, which of course I took leisurely through the parks all the way back to Yamate-dori just north of Shimizubashi, which is my dear home of now two plus years.

North central Tokyo is quiet, pristine, and one of the most charming places one could hope to find.

At night I decided to treat myself to frivolity, even though I was heading to the land of cheese and wine in only a few days. Basing my decision on some internet advice about the lifespan of modern reds, I opened a bottle of 2001 Ronchedone that I purchased from a specialty importer the summer of 2003, at the beginning of my career with iNiS. I used the last of my pocket change on some “premium” Meiji Hokkaido Camembert and an issue of Weekly Playboy, namely because there were a couple of articles on Ichiro, and Ito Misaki [Kya!!] was on the cover (even though I knew there was no chance she’d be caught in anything less than a skirt and blouse inside).

Really, what more do you need than this?

So, Auron and I kicked total ass, and I had a very snappy bottle of Italian wine and succulent northern Japanese dairy goodness. Hats off to me, for finding a good deal, for capturing a sleepy Siamese, and for fixing my indispensable bike (sort of).