Noilly Prattle: January 2015

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Getting Reacquainted 15 - Kyoto winter 2015

     The winter doldrums having set in around mid-January as usual we decided it was time for a change of scene.

 udon lunch in Uji 
lunch time
        Road Buddy, who is a big reader of MANGA (Japanese Comic Books), had been wanting to see an exhibition of original drawings by one of her favorite authors being held at the Manga Museum in Kyoto. The weather bureau was forecasting sunny days for a recent weekend and we took the opportunity for a getaway trip to include the 平等院 Byōdō-in Temple in Uji City (a 20-minute train ride south of Kyoto), a stay at a hot spring hotel on Lake Biwa (another half hour train ride northeast Kyoto), and the manga exhibition in Kyoto. The next day, on the spur of the moment, we decided to take a side visit to the Heian Shrine only a short distance from the Manga Museum by subway.

Uji City- Byōdō-in

Byōdō-in reflecting pond 
my copy
       After arriving at Kyoto Station on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) we boarded a local train to get to Uji, 20 minutes south of Kyoto. Before walking to the Byōdō-in we stopped for lunch to fuel up and energize. This city and its Byōdō-in Temple are associated with Murasaki Shikibu, the author of the early 11th Century novel the 源氏物語 – GENJI MONOGATARI (The Tale of Genji), said to be the oldest novel in the world. Murasaki Shikibu, a nickname, was a protege of the Fujiwara family who owned the property that was later remodeled into a Buddhist temple, the Byōdō-in. A Fujiwara daughter was one of the Emperor's official wives and Murasaki, who was admired for her erudition and writing talent, was invited to join her salon. The novel was written during the late Heian Period of Japanese history. How it came to be written is an interesting story in itself.


Murasaki Shikibu and Uji River
Sei Shonagon
       In the Heian Period the Emperor had more than one official wife (and probably several concubines as well). These wives competed for the Emperor's attention by attempting to divert and distract him from the tedium and boredom of the opulent life of the court (contradictory though that may seem—emperors didn't really have all that much to do). At any rate, these ladies held what would be known in European capitals as literary salons. The lady with the most popular salon would acquire the Emperor's favor. Two of the salons were favored with rival writers Murasaki Shikibu and Sei Shonagon. Shonagon wrote The Pillow Book (枕草子MAKURA no SŌSHI) which included essays, lists of all kinds, personal thoughts, interesting events in court, poetry, and some opinions on her contemporaries. Basically sounds like your average gossip columnist. Shikibu is thought to have written the Genji in installments presented in a series of readings at the salon.  Since Murasaki is better known to history, I suppose hers was the favorite salon of the emperor? It would have been mine at least. There is a sculpture of Murasaki Shikibu overlooking the swiftly flowing Uji River.

Lake Biwa – Ogoto-onsen

      We left Uji City around 3:30 in the afternoon and took a train to Ogoto-onsen near Lake Biwa northeast of Kyoto. We had reserved a room overlooking the lake with its own hot spring bathtub in the room that also had a jacuzzi. Except for an initial miscalculation about the heat of the spring water to fill the tub (it was way too hot) and slowly and gingerly immersing myself, the cool winter evening air soon cooled the water to a comfortable temperature and a bottle of warm rice wine proved to be divinely relaxing before dinner, and again after dinner, and again in the morning before and after breakfast. Japan's hot springs are, in my opinion, its greatest contribution to world culture.

"dressed" for dinner

hot spring jacuzzi - Lake Biwa in the background

Kyoto – Heian Shrine

Heian Shrine torii
just for the scale of the thing
     We returned to Kyoto without any solid plan in mind other than Road Buddy's visit to the manga exhibition. I have a limited interest in manga so I was planning to roam around the Gion district, once famous for its tea houses and Geisha entertainers, while she went to the museum. It turned out that the museum was only two stops from Heian Shrine on the train we took so we decided to drop in at the shrine and then go on together to the museum where I would have lunch while she saw the original cartoons. That is what we did.

main gate - typical vermilion trim and green tile roof
       The Heian Shrine (which was actually built at the end of the 19th Century) is a popular tourist destination for visitors to Japan and Kyoto. The shrine is a partial reproduction of the original palace of the Heian Period, built to a 5/8 scale of the original but in a different location. The complementary colors of red and green dominate at the Heian Shrine, mostly in the vermilion varnish on the trim and the green tiles of the roofs. The gigantic torii is startling both for it color as well as its size. Impressive as the shrine buildings are, however, I enjoyed a stroll through the landscaped garden that surrounds the shrine buildings on three sides.

Heian Garden - twisted trunk and branches
look sort of like a dragon to me

stepping stones across the pond

islands represent a crane and a turtle
representing longevity and happiness

bridge framed in dry pampas grass

pine needles are thinned out to maintain shape -
top of the tree has been trimmed, but not the bottom yet

exquisite landscaping of a Japanese garden with the basic elements of stone, water and trees

manga addicts
        When we left the shrine and headed for the Manga Musem I was very hungry. Happily the museum had a cafe that served simple fast food. I bought a hot dog and fries and a cup of coffee and she went to the exhibit. It's amazing how, when you're really hungry, such a simple lunch tastes like a gourmet meal. Road buddy had a hot dog when she came out before we returned to Kyoto Station and boarded the Shinkansen to return home. We made the mistake of stopping at the McDonald's in Okayama station and the less than fresh food was appallingly mediocre. It'll be a while before I go to even the local Mickey D's again!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Looking Back: 21 – Changes in the wind—again

     No, things are definitely not equal and the one thing we can be sure of is that things will change. A couple of changes that argued against my settling down to a conventional life were occurring almost from the day I started working at The Colonial Press.

The Colonial Press, Inc.
       The first change was in the then new techniques (now obsolete with the advent of word processing and desk top publishing software) of type setting. Soon after I started working in the composing room a new type of typesetting machine, photo typesetters, were introduced in the lino-type division. Without going into the technical details, phototypesetting eliminated the need for dual process typesetting and lead extrusion by using photographic paper that created a finished photo of the text ready for paste up. This was an enormous improvement over the cumbersome process of using heavy lead. So, I had accepted a job that was already doomed to go the way of the horse and buggy. In retrospect I probably had the foresight, or intuition, to see the handwriting on the wall. By 1977 The Colonial Press, Inc., once the largest printing company in the United States and the printer of the Warren Commission report on the Kennedy Assassination, was out of business.

       The second change was an internal one, restlessness--the old call of the road—the impulse to seek and shape my own changes and not wait for them to happen to me. I was getting bored with routine and wanted intellectual stimulation. Travel experiences while I was on active duty in the Navy had made me curious as to how, what historical forces, had shaped the places I had merely glanced off the surfaces of during recreational port calls. To slake my curiosity I decided to pursue some college history courses a couple evenings a week at Worcester Junior College in Worcester, a large city about half an hour's drive from my home.

with me bro. and his sailboat
       After a semester or two I found the courses stimulating and wondered if I might not enroll in the Associates Degree program. Since I had not been in the college bound track in high school I lacked certain required courses for a degree. I discussed the issue with a counselor at the WJC who told me about a way to fulfill the course requirements by taking some “remedial” algebra and science courses right there at the junior college. That's exactly what I did for three years of working full time days at the Press and attending evening classes at the junior college a few evenings a week, by which time I had accumulated 54 credits, almost half the number required for a full Bachelors Degree.

me cuz. doing his Elvis thing
BBQ - Summer of 1967
       By then it was 1967. Although I was engrossed in my own pursuits and enjoying life, I was aware of things happening in the broader society, specifically the Cold War I era proxy war variously known as (depending on your point of view): the Second Indochina War, the Resistance War against America or, most famously, the Vietnam War—the ultimate game changer of my generation. It eventually caused an ideological schism in American society that has never really been healed. Had it not been for a fortuitous change in my economic situation, I might have remained on the right side the schism, instead of the left (wrong?) one.

best man at me bro.'s wedding
To be continued...

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Looking Back: 20 – Back to New England

     Everything was in flux in 1960s America.

       The imperial and ideological rivalry of the post-World War world of the 20th Century morphed into the kind of nuclear paranoia that lay just beneath the surface of life and politics in the long Cold War, which, come to think of it, never really ended with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union. But, that's another story.

at home - 1964
       Although experiences in the military had awakened a latent rebellious streak in my nature, I still thought to pursue a relatively conventional path in life when I returned to my home turf in New England in l964—find a job and perhaps eventually marry and raise a family—the typical middle class aspirations that most of my generation were expected to follow. “Longer hair and other flamboyant affections of appearance”* were still a little over the horizon in 1964—but foreshadowed by the Beatles mop-heads.

the Beetle in winter
       I heard from a cousin who worked there that a well respected book printing company called The Colonial Press in C. was hiring. C. was only a 10 or 15 minute drive from my home so I applied for a job and was hired as a proof-boy in the composing room. Since my old 55 Ford had seen better days I decided to trade it in for a more economical Volkswagen Beetle. I wasn't getting a very big paycheck so a more economical car to commute with was a sensible move.

factory outlet books
       Working in the composing room of a major book manufacturing company proved to be rather fascinating for someone who like to read. Being a fast learner I soon became very proficient at pulling galley proofs that were then sent to the proofreaders for error correction. In those days typesetting was still done on linotype and monotype machines that created lead type. The raw text was set on flat trays call “galleys” and stored in bins. My job was to pick up the trays from the bins and pull proofs on a small printing machine. The galleys could be pretty heavy and I developed a trick back that has been an intermittently constant companion ever since.

imperfect or
overstocked stamp
      There was a wonderful bonus to working for the Press. They had a kind of factory outlet where they sold imperfect or overstocked books to employees at a considerable saving. They sold everything from cheap paperbacks to bound hardcover classics and new releases, many from university presses. I still have a few well worn copies of the books I bought at the factory outlet.

       Working for a book printing company was the perfect job for a developing bookworm. I was constantly surrounded by the printed word and I thought that I would like to be promoted to the job of proofreader. Then, as I imagined it, I would be able to read all the time and earn a living doing it. But it was not to be. The composing room supervisor was impressed by my quick study abilities and I let him know that I would be interested in proof reading. But he wanted to know if I knew how to type. I did and he offered me a job in the mono-type setting room instead which I accepted.

family get together of the period
       There were half a dozen or so mono-typesetters working at the time. Most of them were very efficient self-absorbed robots who paid me little attention. But a couple of the guys took me under their wing and taught me the ropes...and taught me to play pinochle during lunch breaks. All things being equal, I suppose I could have made a career as a mono-type setter, become an ace pinochle player, gotten married and settled down to a conventional life, but all things are not necessarily equal, are they?

* from the Broadway musical “Hair”

To be continued...