Comfortable Chap

Clean and Rainy

Good morning from my hotel room in Kashihara. It's been raining to-day and almost everyone has an umbrella! People ride bikes while holding their umbrellas up and open! Stores and restaurants have umbrella holders outside though I've been carrying mine in because I've heard umbrellas are one of the few things in Japan prone to get stolen, I suspect because most of the umbrellas are sort of considered communal property once in the holders.

I've been staying in as much as possible but I have to go out for food. I got my breakfast this morning at Mister Donut, the closest thing to a Starbucks around here. The coffee is good, the doughnuts are very mild but not bad. A bit eggy. They have toast, too, but toast is so thick here it's basically cake. It's pretty good. Still wish I could find a place that sells oatmeal.

I had to go to the laundromat yesterday. There was only one other person there, a middle aged woman in traditional kimono sitting in the corner. I tried to stay as far from her as possible and felt twice as awkward trying to figure out which machines were washers and which were dryers. I don't think she liked seeing a white guy there, she stepped out a few minutes later. I'd heard white people get odd reactions, particularly in areas far from major cities, but I'm quite used to being stared at since I've always dressed like a weirdo. Surprisingly, my clothes and umbrella aren't nearly so conspicuous around here. Wandering around Osaka in my black fedora and grey herringbone tweed Inverness coat and black scarf, I got some looks but I've seen several people with big black hats and the Inverness coat looks quite a bit like a certain traditional Japanese overcoat I've seen a few times. Even toting heavy luggage doesn't mark me out much as I've seen several people on the trains and wandering about with big metal suitcases on wheels.

I can't get over how clean everyone and everything is here. The laundromat was in mint condition. All shining steel and sparkling linoleum. The tables were so flat and clean I felt fine using them to fold my clothes. The toilets are legendary, of course, all with bidets and heated seats. I've never felt so clean in my life. It's no wonder the Japanese word kirei means pretty and also clean.

Not that my Japanese is great. I can do simple sentences well enough to get by but smart phones have made things absurdly easy. I don't even have service yet, I'm able to use translator and google maps with wi-fi, which is free in nearly every convenience store and train station. World travel used to require some intelligence, I think, but I'd been noticing for years how people who've travelled extensively don't seem to be particularly, shall we say, brilliant. But now you can buy smartness in a phone.
Musician Who

Just the Doctor and Companion

A peculiarly deserted English village greets the Doctor and Sarah Jane in The Android Invasion. From 1975, the thirteenth season, this serial is from the period where Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen's chemistry had reached perfection. When stony faced android replicants of the villagers do show up, Doctor and companion react in ways to effectively provoke amusement and suspense in equal measure.

Oaks only grow on Earth, apparently, as the Doctor remarks when Sarah initially questions whether they could be on Earth. The pub is deserted, the till has only new minted money. When a blankly staring publican arrives, the Doctor orders ginger pop, which Sarah Jane can't stand.

I love how the android Sarah later loves ginger pop but the Doctor reveals it's the android's scarf that gave her away--and he uses the scarf from the real Sarah like a matador's cape to distract the android so he can knock her gun away with his hat. It's a nice, rapid string of misdirection for the discerning viewer. I love how Four found practical uses for his costume.

This is my favourite of Four's hats--you may notice later, when he fights his own duplicate, he accidentally picks its hat up but then tosses it away in disgust to take his own, apparently identical fedora.

And Elisabeth Sladen's so cute in this. She gets to rescue the Doctor twice--the second time he's tied to a pole. He asks her to take the knife out of his pocket to cut his bindings--of course he has a knife, only an idiot wouldn't carry one--but the tough vines can only be melted with the sonic screwdriver. Otherwise, in its few appearances in the serial, the sonic is very much a highly specialised screwdriver. The Doctor uses it to remove some bolts from a floor panel at one point.

This is a lovely one, better than I remembered. I could watch Baker and Sladen playing off each other all day.

Twitter Sonnet #1340

Connecting signs perspective lanes appear.
Converging tracks were one along the time.
A thousand reasons filled the glass of beer.
The grey and silent figures start to climb.
The channels changed between the screens at night.
A hotter room recedes behind the chill.
Contented cubes became a meal of pallid light.
A dream of oats dissolved in breakfast meal.
With sleepy logic arms invade the sleeves.
The proven touch removes offending gloves.
A kindly phone replaced the healthy sheaves.
The door was black but nothing proveas.
A coat of teeth protects the spring catch.
The wand'ring dog can play the longer fetch.
I am the Terror that Flaps in the Night

The Casual Dark

I watched three movies on the fourteen hour flight from Dallas to Tokyo. Why sleep when there's a surprisingly robust selection on the screen on the back of the seat in front of me? Of the three, only 2014's What We Do in the Shadows I hadn't seen before. An entertaining film from the heyday of single camera, Office-style mockumentaries, directors Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi conjure the every day undeaths of a few loser vampires with uncanny clarity.

Clement and Waititi play two of the vampires. Waititi is first introduced, rising from his coffin washboard style, like Nosferatu, an obsequious smile and anxious glances at the camera modifying the effect. He's a fussy sweetheart who often doesn't seem to quite read a situation accurately. He doesn't understand why he can't dress as Blade to a vampire party.

Clement's character is more like a reimagining of Gary Oldman's Dracula if said character were a thirty something, perpetually dwelling on his teenage glory tears playing Vampire Masquerade. Mostly he looks like an unkempt version of the sexy young Dracula who seduces Mina in the Francis Ford Coppola film but Clement dons an incongruous lumpy wig like the older version for one scene in the film. The other vampires similarly seem to have no clear awareness of their lack of cool to camouflage their true natures as horny geeks. Jonathan Brugh plays Deacon, a vampire whose relationship with his human thrall (Jackie van Beek), who procures supposed virgins for the group, is hilarious.

Like The Office or The Thick of It, the comedy does give way to some drama. In this case it's a rivalry with werewolves which dips into genuine horror when they don't seem like a gang of bar hoppers. The comedy earlier in the film successfully endears the characters to the viewer and the surprisingly good special effects combine with the unexpectedness of the horror to make it all very good.
Into the Bay

Beautiful Rome

For a perfect pairing of leads and location it's hard to find examples to rival 1953's Roman Holiday. The centrepiece is Audrey Hepburn as the wayward princess on the town, her always entrancing, genuine reactions could breathe life into a cardboard set. But the environs of Rome reflect another glory back, the personality in the fountains and extras lounging in the outdoor cafes establish a powerful chemistry with the actress. Gregory Peck as her perfect gentleman, love interest stands as our point of view and, like him, mostly our participation amounts to watching in wonder.

Whether she's commandeering a Vespa for a mad ride through cafe tables or smashing a guitar over a sinister black suit, it's always nice to see Miss Hepburn. It's never clear exactly what country she's a princess of but there's no mistaking what country she's in. Where else can the divine and the every day combine so effortlessly? It's easy to imagine a man like Peck's character, stumbling upon an innocent girl, in a drug induced slumber on a public bench, and having no desire but to assist her--and maybe get her off his hands.

How very little actually happens in this film. You have the trope of the inexperienced ruler, masquerading as a commoner with the help of an attractive rogue, not unlike Aladdin or The Thief of Bagdad. But there's no pressure for the plot to make the princess learn a lesson about respecting the lower class, there's no pressure for Peck and Hepburn to end up together. As much as we might like that, the realism of them not ending up together makes the subtle bittersweetness all the more effective.

All we need, really, is to spend a little time with Audrey Hepburn in Rome.
Otoyo Learns

Imagining Places

Can you spot the camouflaged Starbucks in this photo? I had my morning coffee there. Walking and drinking or eating in public is traditionally frowned on (though some young people do it) in Japan so I had to sit and gulp down the whole thing there. Fortunately, I was the only customer there.

I guess I made into Japan just in time, it seems they're not letting Americans in anymore. Hearing stories from friends and family about the lockdowns is a bit surreal. The idea of living in Japan has been for so long something I could only imagine and now that it's real the idea of living in the U.S. has become something I can only imagine. I suppose things will likely change in Japan, too, but, then again, maybe it won't get as bad here. It seems terribly unfair that a country like Italy may be suffering due to a culture that's more comfortable with casual physical contact while Japan is benefiting from a culture that avoids it. Mind you, I rather like not having to shake hands with everyone and I love how people respect other people's personal space here. But I generally had the sense that there was something psychologically beneficial about Italian culture.
  • Current Music
    "You are Too Beautiful" - Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane
  • Tags
    , ,
Confusing Device

Togrutas, Towers, and Bears

Greetings from Osaka, where the faceless green bears bathe with impunity. This fellow guards Osaka Station, part of Japan's rail system I'm starting to get the hang of. All places seem to be pretty crowded and everything's still open. I don't know how much less crowded the city may be now than usual but the cafe I wanted to eat lunch at yesterday was packed to capacity, I decided to avoid such a dense grouping of people. To what cafe am I referring?

Tower Records! Tower Records is still going strong in Japan, very strong, stronger than it ever was in the U.S.--I don't remember it ever having a cafe. I miss this store so much--it's been, what, over twelve, thirteen years since they all closed in the U.S.? They closed in 2006, according to Wikipedia. Meanwhile, in Japan, people apparently still love to buy CDs. Someone told me there's an even bigger location in Tokyo.

But the world of Sci-Fi/Fantasy continues and yesterday came news that Rosario Dawson has finally been cast as Ahsoka Tano. Just what I wanted, except it's in a supporting role on The Mandalorian. Maybe under Bob Iger's stewardship of Disney+ the writers will be able to work more creatively on the show. Hopefully she won't be simply the boring sideline mom she was in Rebels, hopefully it won't be an episode where she and the Mandalorion size each other up in a fight before learning to respect each other grudgingly in a shared endeavour. My expectations may be too high. I wish they'd bring in George Lucas on this.

Twitter Sonnet #1339

The glacial lightning claimed a distant hill.
Extensive seas combine to make a soup.
In power stews and masks we kept a bill.
A team of duckish faces jump the loop.
An extra tea required nothing bagged.
A tiny wave was never plugged for light.
Reception near the belly often sagged.
In metal shapes the people flew a kite.
Astounding toilets wait in brilliant stalls.
Another flight concludes with water points.
Instead of roofs the fungi lift the walls.
Amusing threads construct the yarny joints.
In sorted bins the building rose to work.
In morning air the beans began to perk.
Comfortable Chap

On Viruses and the Virulent

Here's a picture from Tennessee. Currently I'm in flight, over New Mexico, I think. Oddly the twelve hour flight doesn't seem like very much time to me. I have a nice seat, the seats next to me are empty and I have plenty of room for my laptop case. I suppose this is a side effect of the Coronavirus.

If my attitude about the Coronavirus seems callous or inappropriately casual to you, I would like to assure you I do appreciate the seriousness of the situation. I would be more than happy to self-quarantine and avoid travel if I had a place to self-quarantine to and my job didn't depend on me travelling right now. I've been preparing for this job in Japan for over a year and have made many sacrifices including donating or discarding all of my furniture, selling or donating many of my books, and finally selling my car to a relative in Tennessee. I might have enjoyed staying at the Embassy Suite forever but my funds simply won't allow it. I consider myself fortunate that I'm not one of the many forced to spend the duration of this crisis on streets and in shelters.

Maybe I should use language to show feelings of anguish and people may be upset that I don't seem to be participating in the communal dismay. I don't like what's happening and hate that the virus has killed so many people and has made others sick while the changes being made to status quo operations have caused problems that go beyond inconvenience, including staff shortages at hospitals. The reason I may not seem very emotional about this thing, and the reason I seem to be focused on other things, is because this seems to me the most practical and considerate way of conducting myself. Although I feel calm and not panicked, I feel like any attempt to provoke panic or terror in myself places an undue burden on other people. It seems to me an expression of pain, emotional or physical, is a form of cry for help and it takes resources and energy for people to help other people, emotionally or physically. So if I don't actually require such assistance, I would be wasting other people's time if I demanded it when I might contribute more constructive and entertaining things about my particular experience to distract people from what they may be going through.

Several years ago, I had a conversation with a young man who told me that he reacted to the news of any death, of anyone in the world, the same way he'd react to the death of a loved one. Since he told me this while not sobbing or appearing in any other way especially upset, I could only assume he avoided news all the time (I know he didn't), he was lying, or he was a psychopath. So I tend not to trust some people when they say it's our responsibility to always be empathetic. You couldn't do that and remain sane. Can you enjoy watching the cute cat video while knowing, right at that moment, someone like you or your loved one is experiencing pain or death? So I respect the seriousness of what is occurring without feeling like I must be experiencing the full extent of the pain internally. I don't think that would do anyone any good. Understandably, some people are more sensitive to the imagery and news than others. Maybe it's because I'm distracted by so many other issues at this time that I'm not feeling the same level of shock as some of my friends. On the other hand, I generally find I'm at my most calm in the middle of a crisis.

Various Ways to be Exhausted

These pretty little pink flowers are growing in random spots beneath a freeway overpass in Fort Worth, Texas. How do I know this? Because I'm trying to get to Japan, naturally. Travelling from Knoxville, my flight to Charlotte was delayed due to fog, causing me to miss a flight to Fort Worth--and then the substitute flight was delayed due to a mechanical issue. So eventually I did end up in Fort Worth but too late for any flight going to Japan to-day. Fortunately, American Airlines was nice enough to put me up for the night in an Embassy Suite so I can't say I'm too upset. I walked to a nearby Wal Mart for supplies--I was happy to see Texas doesn't have fences and walls everywhere to thwart pedestrians like San Diego does.

It certainly has been an eventful five days.

While staying in Tennessee I had no wi-fi and couldn't go to a Starbucks for it because you can't even stay inside a Starbucks for very long--only to go orders are allowed. I found this out early one morning in Birmingham, Alabama. It's probably a sensible precaution but it makes things difficult for me.

Otherwise, the drive from San Diego to Knoxville was heaven. I do love driving. I spent a lot of time going through Texas, of course. To quote Peter O'Toole as T.E. Lawrence, I like the desert "because it's clean," hopefully Coronavirus-free. I swear, if I never hear the word "Coronavirus" again it'll be too soon.

There are so many new Starbucks outfitted with outlets and wi-fi and all the Dennys seem to have wi-fi now. At a Denny's in San Antonio, I overheard a pretty young waitress complaining that she couldn't even buy some supplies for her baby because it was stuff panicked customers had already raided the shop for.

I didn't take many photos on my journey, I didn't have time since my flight was leaving from Knoxville at 7am on Wednesday and I'd left San Diego on Friday. I really wish I could've spent more time in Louisiana. Just the sight of swamps and forests from the freeway was breathtaking.

Here's another photo from Birmingham:

I drove around the historic district at 4:30am. It was too dark for photos. A really eerie experience, all those deserted old buildings with no-one around and weirdly bright street lights. I can't quite describe the feeling it gave me.

Encroaching Flora

Here's a picture from a gas station just outside beautiful Birmingham, Alabama. I don't have time to say much more to-day and there probably won't be a post from me to-morrow until I get reliable wi-fi access again.

Here are couple from Georgia which feels very Walking Dead:

Twitter Sonnet #1338

A tipping truck could block entire lanes.
The mountain rocks were watching chips and tea.
Before the night, the sun adroitly wanes.
A stony slip replaced the widest sea.
A plastic brick was less than Little Slab.
Electric tongues are thin beyond the patch.
A tiny brain was like a paper tab.
A net of shrubs abhor a single match.
A switch converts the sand to brilliant grass.
The trees in swamp await the fading light.
Through pink and yellow beams the drivers pass.
Suspension bridges conduct day to night.
Rotting things abide between the limbs.
Some gobs of green arrest the silver rims.
  • Current Music
    People talking at the coffee shop
  • Tags
I Wash

Asking the Bird

Here's a surprisingly noisy little bird at one of the occasional designated picnic areas scattered about the Texas desert. Adding to the post-apocalyptic feeling of any scrubby desert was a gas station sign limiting purchases of water bottle cases to two per person. Otherwise, I haven't seen much evidence of the Corona virus, though having no frame of reference I suppose every place I saw may have been 50% less crowded than usual. The outlet mall I stopped in to use the wi-fi in Tucson was certainly packed. Despite pouring rain, just like in San Diego, people were wandering around in t-shirts, some of them looking askance at this archaic contraption I carry called an umbrella.

I overheard one guy in a Mexican restaurant in Sonora, Texas speculating I had a sword hidden in the umbrella. A very young white man was my waiter. He was excited to see me reading Robert Louis Stevenson whom he said he reads at the library.

Some of you may wonder why I'm travelling now, at this worst of times, why didn't I stay at home? Well, I haven't got one, for one thing. I'm certainly not alone in that--having been in L.A. recently I've seen the tent cities on the sidewalks are even bigger than the ones in San Diego. Funny how easily the media so often overlooks such things.

I'm lucky enough to be able to stay in motels on my way. Travelling has sure gotten easy thanks google maps and travel sites where I can find decent motels for 50 or 60 dollars a night, often identical, blocky buildings with tiny rooms and weak water pressure. But they have free wi-fi which is all it takes to make them seem like paradise to me.