Noilly Prattle: July 2015

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Meandering Road to the Deep North

Matsuo Bashō
Bashō's best known haiku:
an old pond-
a frog jumps in-
the splash of water
     For 265 years the Edo Period (1603-1868) brought stability to Japan and effectively cut off the country from most foreign contact. It was a period of flowering in the arts: painting, wood block print, theater, music and dance, writing and poetry. The renowned haiku poet, Matsuo Bashō, lived in the earlier years of Edo (now Tokyo) and in 1689, some five years before his death, undertook a journey of 150 days on foot with an apprentice student to the northern part of Honshu. He wrote a travel account of this trip in his (奥の細道) Oku no Hosomichi translated as the "The Narrow Road to the Deep North". In his opening remarks he gives us one of the finest definitions of the urge to travel that I have ever read.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Matsuo Bashō
     The months and days are the travelers of eternity. The years that come and go are also voyagers. Those who float away their lives on ships or who grow old leading horses are forever journeying, and their homes are wherever their travels take them. Many of the men of old died on the road, and I too for years past have been stirred by the sight of a solitary cloud drifting with the wind to ceaseless thoughts of roaming.

     Last year...when spring came and there was mist in the air, ... I seemed to be possessed by the spirits of wanderlust, and they all but deprived me of my senses. The guardian spirits of the road beckoned, and I could not settle down to work.

        Our upcoming trip to Hokkaido this summer is not, strictly speaking, a “getting reacquainted” with Japan getaway since neither Road Buddy nor myself have ever traveled to the “deep north” of Japan. For a number of complicated reasons we decided to buy a new car last June. We had been talking about taking a trip to Yunan Province in China this summer before deciding to buy the car, a Mazda Demio 1.3 liter, but changed our plan to a road trip to northern Japan to break in the car (and hopefully keep cool as well) instead. Yunan is being postponed until the winter of 2016.

        While in no way trying to emulate Bashō, our winding road will take us to some of the points that he visited during his journey to northern Honshu but we will part company with the poet after visiting the 12th Century Chūson-ji Temple in Hiraizumi. Whereas he turned west towards the Sea of Japan, we will proceed to the northern tip of Honshu and take a ferry to Hokkaido, the northernmost island of the Japanese archipelago.

Map - Our approximate route

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


     That's the sound of the (Greek) can getting kicked down the road....or sold down the river.

       I had been cautiously optimistic of a potentially workable way out of the economic crisis, now disaster, in Greece, through a carefully planned and coordinated exit from the Eurozone. Given the hand offered by the growing Eurasian alliance in the form of a pipeline deal, with an advance of some 5 billion Euros, and an offer to join the BRICS New Development Bank, Greece could have parted with the Euro and possibly revived its failing economy with a new start with the vibrant growth to the East.

the fickle finger of fate
       Unfortunately, the Syriza government made no attempt to prepare for a “Grexit” from the Eurozone and naively thought it could come to terms with the austerity demands of the “Troika”. The Tsipras government merely sought to put lipstick on a pig when it should have taken the bull by the horns (apologies for all cliches, but I'm too disgusted to be inventive).

       So, whether or not the Greek parliament approves the deal that Tsipras was forced to chew and swallow, the Greeks and European Union are back to Square One, in an unsustainable and unstable political and economic madhouse. Do you hear the sound of requiem bells for Europe?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The West fiddles while …

... the Eurasian Union grows

     And another “new world order” is being born right under the not clueless yet seemingly congested noses of NATO. I refer to the Ufa summit in Russia being attended by the part of the planet that is not embroiled in senseless and useless wars—the SCO, the BRICS and the evolving Eurasian Union.

      I referred to the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) in a July, 2012 blog with the somewhat quixotically titled post IPI, TAPI, NATO, SCO . . . in which I imagined the planet dividing and coalescing into two competing empires that I labeled NATO and SCO—the former embroiled in endless conflicts the latter doing business (or playing while the cat's preoccupied).

       So, while the European Union is in meetings to either put out or throw gasoline on the flames of the Greek drama (only time will tell), the Eurasians are busy making business deals, adding countries to their ranks, building a new silk road trading empire and generally going on about doing business.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Breaking up might not be all that hard to do?

61% said NO to EU conditions
      The Greeks, having voted NO in their highly publicized referendum on whether or not to accept the EU's terms for getting more financial aid--where could they go from here?

       In a previous post [Breaking Up is Hard to Do] I speculated that one option would be for Athens to turn its eyes to the East if they are forced to drop out of the Eurozone, that the evolving Eurasian alliance could find mutual benefit in coming to Greece's rescue. 

        I ran across another blogger who is of a similar opinion and thought it would be of interest to others who have wondered how this complex situation could play out. So, I've decided to simply link to his blog and let it speak for itself.

Greece, China, and Russia – a Plan B for Greece?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Looking Back: 33 – send in the clowns

     My old university friend, P., was living in Springfield in the Connecticut River valley when I loaded my car and left our condo in Worcester in the Spring of 1971 barely half a year after our wedding. I badly needed someone to talk to simply to unload my emotional garbage on someone who would listen critically but without judging. I telephoned him and asked if it was alright to come down to Springfield and spend a few days at his place. I outlined the situation and he unhesitatingly said yes, come and stay as long as you need to.

tornado on the Connecticut River -
Springfield, MA, June 2011
        So, I drove to Springfield in my car loaded with all my personal stuff and over the next few days P. and I renewed our old friendship from UMass and reminisced about how great it had been in those halcyon days seen now through a glass darkly. Little by little I talked about the circumstances that had led me to this latest crossroads on my meandering path. Why did I get married? Don't know really, it just sort of evolved. Did I love my wife? Thought so at first, but obviously not deeply enough for the commitment of a marriage. What bothered me the most? Loss of my freedom and feeling trapped by the costly life style expected by my wife and her family—at least as I perceived it. Was I ready to walk away? Yes. What was I going to do next? Face the music.

       I called M. and told her where I was and asked if it would be alright to meet and discuss the situation and where we would go from there. She was restrained on the phone and suggested that I come to our apartment and talk it over. I preferred a more neutral setting but she had a little boy from a previous marriage and said it would be difficult to get away from him. I had gotten fond of little Chris and didn't relish the idea of an emotional meeting both of them, but agreed to meet there anyway.

        Accordingly, I returned to our apartment. Chris was there and that made a long wrenching discussion along the lines I had discussed with P. all the more difficult. Little by little, however, we were able to agree, not without recriminations, but with a glimmer of understanding that I hadn't expected, that she would file for divorce charging me as the party at fault. We parted with a modicum of amiability and acceptance. I think the presence of the little boy had a beneficial effect on our overstretched emotions. Afterwards, I felt guilty and depressed but at the same time as if a storm had passed and a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

        The divorce, uncontested by me, was granted on June 25, 1971 about seven months after our wedding and finalized six months later, ironically on December 26, 1971—my 30th birthday.

To be continued...