Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Dragonflies Don't Require Maps

One of the things we saw in Japan was a swarm of dragonflies - something I've never seen before. Dragonflies are cool, and not just because of their name either. I think it could be their style-y flying - that capacity to stop, start, zoom; the way their chassis catch rainbow tints in sunlight. (Try and replicate that, humans!)

Going to the launch of the ‘Voyagers’ poetry anthology at Circadian Rhythm in Dunedin last week was a fitting way to smooth my way back into being back in NZ; back in Dunedin; back home. The anthology contains science fiction poems written by New Zealand poets. When I asked one poet there if he was in the anthology, he said, “I don’t write science fiction poems.”(He might be surprised!) I didn’t think I did either, but I did try to write one especially for the event, which had an open mike component.
Tim Jones (one of the two editors for the anthology - Mark Pirie being the other) did an excellent job of mc for the reading. Several poets with poems in the book read their poem (sometimes choosing other poems by other writers in the book as well) following that up with more poetry of their own. David Reiter, the book’s Australian publisher, was also there. It’s his second visit to Dunedin (and he must be a good guy, cos he likes the place.) Over the course of the night, he read some poems from the anthology as well as some of his own, and other poetry he’s published from both Australians and NZ’ers. As I am writing this report a week later, I will no doubt have forgotten some of the readers - but from what I can recall, we had readings from: Sue Wootton (who not only read her own poetry, but Katherine Liddy’s ‘Crab Nebula’ from the anthology) David Karena Holmes, Jenny Powell, Cy Mathews, Larry Matthews, David Eggleton, James Dignan, Ian Goldsmith; plus others ... (and apologies to the ‘others’ whose names I don’t recall.)
The excellent ‘Voyagers’ anthology is available to buy. (Please go here to Tim’s blog 'Books in the Trees' to find out where, and also for farther ‘Voyagers’ news.)
My poem kind of wrote itself after sitting in my head gathering steam for about three days. I knew it was going to feature an escalator in Japan, because it was while riding one there that I got a weird feeling of being on the Blade Runner film set. (What did it was the fact that the escalator started speaking in a semi-monotone, telling us to ride it safely, and to keep our hands on the rail etc. ... ) Steve said he seemed to recall from his Film and Media papers at Otago Uni. being told that part of the mood of that film was modelled on modern Japan, and in the film some of the background speech is a kind of Pidgin Japanese. The poem revealed that voyages disrupt and unsettle - maybe it’s a theme of mine at the moment - but are necessary for change, awakenings and re-establishment of place.
The whole process of writing this poem coincided with an interesting piece of prose I came across at the time. Written by the American poet Linda Gregg, it’s about how poetry is ‘found’ (the essay is called ‘The Art of Finding’, and if you are into writing poetry it’s definitely worth looking at - go here.)
Lately my life seems to consist of highways and byways (and runways ...) including on the internet where I am led by links to interesting sites and then from there to others. So much so, I become disoriented, ‘caught up’, forgetting where I started from (and afraid that it might be a metaphor for my life right now.) Where the heck this is all going to lead me, this interest in science fiction that ‘Voyagers’ has fuelled (and it has to be said, Twitter also has a lot to answer for as well) and the itchy feet syndrome I am experiencing at present, I have no idea - but I am looking forward to the trip. I think.

between sons

With our first-born son
caught up in Kyoto
a flowing elevator
pours us through to another level,
tells us to travel safe
in a voice like light

from a blue sun
in one of the Jack Vance books
in the boot of John and Katherine’s car,
there as excess baggage
because even sci. fi. books
cannot alter their weight at an airport,

after all this is the real world
where another son who travels
to Chile
arrives before he left
and on Skype when we ask
our middle son

how he is he replies okay
but still in Dunedin.
Meanwhile, back in Japan
we’re asked to please
remove our shoes
in order

to toe our unshod way
along ancient wood
on feet no longer planted
but wavering,
like the floating feet
of astronauts.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Friday, 16 October 2009

the crow / the grey warbler / one whole week

This is Steve's hood and where we waited for the bus to go into the city of Kyoto and beyond!

Our wonderful guide for the day we went to see another impressive temple in Kyoto, was Kaori, who read a poem at Steve and Eriko's wedding. She showed us a Shoren-in temple that in the end has to be my favourite (I kept being asked; What is your favourite temple? ) Well ... this one was. Definitely. It seemed a quieter temple than the others we've seen, with its aged wooden walls, homely, peaceful atmosphere and harmony oozing from every grain.

It brought the outdoors into the inside. It housed colourful, decorative screens. And the fact that in one room, over fifty ancient poets' portraits were featured, won it over for me.

At the entrance it has a tree that dates back to the twelfth century which I could've spent all day gazing and wondering at. A great old fellow that Steve bowed to on our way out which seemed a fitting tribute to such an aged one.

And we happened to be there for a Bhuddist ceremony .... that involved fire. Awesome.

That night E wanted to show us her 'home town' - Osaka - so we caught the train and had a look-see at her city, starting with a noodle curry meal at kinryu noodle house.

Osaka is very different to Kyoto. Exciting, vibrant and edgy, it contrasts with Kyoto which guards its history and traditional edge. In Kyoto, no building is allowed to be over a certain height - so the hills that ring the city are always visible and the sky apparent. Osaka is different, but nonetheless has its own strong character. We really enjoyed our brief look-see at its life and energy, bright lights and attitude. (For example in Kyoto, people make way for others, in Osaka you're more likely to be bumped out of the way on a busy intersection.) Steve says most of the Japanese comedians come from Osaka. Interesting ... I think that shows that it kowtows to no-one.
It also has its own dialect and terms of speech. I guess if one was looking for an equivalent, it might be London and the Cockneys, or maybe NY?

The family in the subway, heading back from Osaka.

The day before we had James as our guide. James is from Amberley, North Canterbury, but now a long-term resident of Japan. He is a lovely guy and the perfect guide with that low-key kiwi humour to add laughter to an enjoyable walk through the very long fushimi shrine's torii tunnel ( we only got to the halfway point, and that took half an hour).

Near where James lives is tofukuji temple with a stone garden as well as a moss garden.

The first bird I heard in Japan was the crow, the first bird upon arriving back home (nearly a whole week ago now) was the falling-scale sound of our local, little grey warbler. Between them, one whole world.
It has taken me a long time (I’m not there yet, but neither am I rushing it) to stop missing Japan. Having our son and his wife and daughter (and another little baby on the way) of course adds to the feeling of being torn away too soon.
Japan has left a mighty impression on us, for reasons too many to outline here. In fact the frustration of having to pin it all down with clumsy words, has put me off writing this post. Then I decided that all I could do really was a small detail - as in a corner of the whole canvas. (Mike sometimes does this for his Cartoon Moon flickr page - details from the whole canvas. It’s effective too, as I hope are my few reports on what was for me personally an epic voyage.)
Here are just a few memories, filed under 5 memories for each sense:
Sounds: Crows; people calling, "arigato gozimas" - from cheerful shop assistants to bored bus drivers (and everyone in between), cheeping bird-sound over the subway sound systems, chanting monks walking past S&E’s home one morning, the sound of straw brooms sweeping paths.
Sights: dark-suited salary men on trains, paper lanterns, people riding bikes (bikes of all shapes, sizes, models, colours ...) with one hand on the handlebar and the other holding an umbrella, packed-in-tight shoe-box houses, cheesy billboards.
Tastes: Tofu, salted beans, fried chicken gristle, raw tuna, fried stingray fin ... so much variety in the food, so much choice - so sugar-free.
Smells: Incense, cooking from narrow, cobbled alley-ways, tatami mats, ancient wood, warm rice fields.
Touch: Warm toilet seats! ridged bamboo trunks, the bark of a tree dating back to the twelfth century, tatami mats under your feet, the peculiar comfort of a springless futon.
And so much more. Sensory overload!
Steve (who has experienced a few of these switch-from-Japan-to-NZ and vice versa now) suggests my sense of displacement since arriving back home is due to 'the sudden sensory shift. Sometimes takes a while to adjust.' He suggests, ' a bracing walk along St. Kilda beach into a stiff southerly should do it!' He's probably right, but I can't quite make myself take that walk. Not just yet.
Japan and its sensory overloads will continue to remain with us. We will be going back. There are just too many things now on our ‘Next Time’ list for us not to (including, of course, the new grandchild, due soon.)

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

All Agog and Well~Fed

Another catch~up after a relatively packed few days when we visited Hiroshima on our own and then on to Okayama prefecture to visit with S's in~laws (two of the sweetest people imaginable.) We are at the tail~end of our amazing trip to Japan to catch up with our son in Kyoto, a fact that leaves us with some sadness. Our wonder at Japan, its customs and sights, continues ~ in fact, gathers momentum as we wander ...

Miyajima Island near Hiroshima is reached via a short ferry trip. We visited in the rain and despite the discomfort of less than adequate footwear (squelchy sneakers and sopping socks) only added to the moody atmosphere of hills, trees, beach and deer ~ not unlike Halfmoon Bay in Stewart Island, NZ ~ if you added to Halfmoon Bay, ancient history, a shrine or two and some un~hunted deer wandering the shopping lanes! as if out for a spot of shopping and a bit of a chat over coffee. That was a wander in the rain on Friday under umbrellas our jeans wet to the knees.

This was the day before, when we visited the Peace Park at Hiroshima. This photo shows thousands of tiny, paper, origami cranes people add to the various monuments as a pledge for peace in the world and the halting of nuclear armament. Hiroshima, the site of an A~bomb attack, is an affecting place with its focus on world peace and graphic, historical evidence of the devastating effects of nuclear war.

We spent a deeply moving time visiting the Museum there, receiving a glimpse of the devastation and horror caused when ordinary citizens going about their daily lives on a summer morning, are suddenly hit with an atomic bomb. (We are also both reading the novel 'Black Rain', which is an effective and enlightening account of that day in August, 1945.)
Despite the bad taste left in your mouth, there is a pervading sense of a non-judgmental hope for world peace, and the brave ability of humankind to rally and recover from such a cataclysmic event.
Both nights we were there, we ate a traditional meal (we are in love with Japanese food!) and on both occasions (both in sharp contrast to each other in their approach and production ~ I might have time to describe these meals in detail at a later date) experienced the warm hospitality and overwhelming kindness and generosity of Japanese people to two receptive, even if at times slightly confused, kiwis.

From there we travelled to the countryside in Okayama Prefecture, to re~unite with S & family at the in~laws.

G is a gardener of some expertise. After retiring, he and N have gone back to G's family land. Note the stone lantern.

Just visible in the upper left corner is the old family home, now falling into disrepair (after all it's over a hundred years old now.) G uses the roof tiles for garden borders.

Mushroom house where very large black mushrooms prosper.

The garden is totally organic. No pesticides were used in the production of this eggplant.

E's pet turtle, now over twenty years old and looked after by her parents. Some parents are left with the cat ... or the dog ... in this case, it's the turtle ~ Okame (which means Mr Turtle in Japanese.) He has free reign of the house and wanders about inside ~ you have to make sure you aren't stepping on him! One of my lasting memories of this trip will have to be waking up to the 'clunk, clunk' sound (identical to a woman in high heels) of Okame's shell on the wooden kitchen floor as he makes his slow and deliberate early morning perambulations.

As well, we visited Christchurch's sister city Kurashiki, which like the Canterbury city, also has a river and willows; but of course a lot more ancient history. The river, willows and bridge are very 'willow~pattern plate'.
I was a little tearful leaving G and N as they are special people to me; we leave S&E&A in their care really so they stand in for us in a lot of ways in the parenting an grand-parenting roles.
I can't leave my report of the visit without mentioning the overwhelming hospitality and meals we had while there. The breakfasts were amazing ~ toast and tea do not come anywhere near to comparing. There was not only the usual (for me) toast and tea, but meat, bread rolls, cakes, boiled eggs, grapes, kiwi fruit (home~grown) tomatoes, beans, peppers, egg rolls with tuna and salmon ... I can't begin to name all that was on the table ... Wow!! Dinner the first night was sushi (hand~rolled yourself) with an array of ingredients to add to the seaweed roll, and sukiyaki the second night with another impressive to the point of overwhelming assortment of ingredients to pluck out from a central pot. Both are extremely friendly and pleasantly lingering ways to eat. We were certainly being thoroughly spoilt.

Before returning to Kyoto, R and I took a little side~trip to reunite with M who stayed with us after S&E's NZ wedding in January this year. She showed us around the castle in her hometown ~ Himeji. She had a friend with her who was fluent in English and who knew a great deal about the castle and its history, so we felt very privileged to once again have our own personal guide. The castle is an impressive piece of architecture dating back to the 17th century (altho' originally built in 12th century and some of the writings and illustrations, weaponry and other historical remnants on show inside date back to that time.)

The day was finished off with a wander around a Japanese garden ~ very peaceful and reflective.
And then it as a train trip back to Kyoto. Only three days left now!

Clocking Out

 I have been neglecting this blog for some months. I think perhaps I should face facts and accept that it is indeed time to retire this blog...