Tuesday, August 24, 2010

from Kyoto: naturally

I wake up Tuesday morning with a sharp pain in my eye. Rotating the eyelid over the eye ball does not help. (It rarely does.) Gushing wet tears accomplishes nothing. Do you see anything there at all? I ask Ed. He glances over. Nope.

I know I cannot teach until this godawful pain goes away. Look again, I nudge him. Do you see a sty? He peers, moves the lid, peers underneath. Yep. Could be. White pimple. I see it.

I read on the Internet that you should resist the temptation to mess with sties at all cost or else infection and death (or something)will surely follow.

Still, the pain persists. Indeed, it grows worse. Let me look again, Ed says. Ah. Not a pimple. Have a Q-tip? Looks like you have some white particle stuck under your lid.

Gracefully he removes it. I tell him it’s like childbirth. One minute there is pain, the next, pain’s over and done with.

All this happens maybe an hour before I go off to class, parting ways with my (after all) occasional traveling companion. I am very grateful that the white crystal wedged itself at a good moment, when Ed was there to remove it.

Sometimes I think I am a very needy person.

At other times, I don’t think that at all.

We walk to breakfast together, my sometimes reluctant traveler and I...


...and eat scones one last time...


...and I hurry off to class. At the subway station, I am charmed by the young kids going past the gates. Each tells the subway agent "thank you very much" -- words that you hear in Japan more than anywhere else. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu. Welcome words.


Thank you very much for coming to visit. Thank you very much for leaving a flan in the refrigerator.

After class I make a list of all the work that I have to do in the week before me. It is overwhelming. I feel tired just thinking about it. Even if I wanted to throw myself into sight seeing now, concentrating on temples with the densest crowds (because no one is here to remind me that crowds detract from the viewing pleasure), I could not do it. Tiny journeys in short spurts -- maybe that, nothing more.

So I choose something small for the late afternoon. A visit to the Kyoto Botanical Gardens, which are conveniently halfway between the university and the neighborhood where I live.

It’s hot as anything (cool off tomorrow! I’m almost sure!), but I don’t care. I’m feeling hellishly out of sorts, what with being up since 4, losing my buddy, facing that mountain of work – truly, this is the kind of moment when, if you want to see me in a complaining mode – I’m as close as ever to it.

But not there yet. How can you stay rutted in your sorry state when the gardens are so very lovely?




Parts of it are overgrown and perhaps in need of a hand (or two or three), to deadhead spent buds, to tug at weeds. But maybe this state of natural chaos is deliberate. Maybe the botanists here want us to see nature’s unruliness,  juxtaposed to the orderliness that we strive for elsewhere.

Some of the plants, the trees, the shrubs are familiar from forest walks we have taken here.




And in nearly every garden, we have seen the beloved cherry trees.


It's not their bloom time, of course. But neither is it the time for the Japanese iris. And yet I am dazzled by this small exception.


In the distance, I see the mountain that looms over my neighborhood. The one that marks the weather for me: bright? hazy? will there be rain?


In the course of my slow and directionless walk, I meet two artists. One is a sullen kind who chooses to sketch in the sun, but you can tell he doesn’t like it there.


The other is a cheerful older gentleman who engages me in a conversation about... Montana.

He doesn’t speak much English, but he tells me his dream is to someday travel to Montana. Why? -- I ask. I like mysteries. There are some favorite ones I have read that are in Montana... I tell him Montana has mountains, but he seems indifferent to this. It matters only that pages from his favorite books have transported him there and now he would like to touch that soil for real.


He asks where I am from and as always, I say I live near Chicago. I must visit Montana and Chicago. It's near a lake, yes? Ontario maybe? Michigan. This is not the first time people here have identified Chicago by its proximity to the Great Lakes. You forget how much bodies of water define the country here.

I watch a dragonfly move between plants in ponds and slabs of concrete.



Ah, yes, I have a friend who likes dragonflies.

I pass a clump of sunflowers. A fleeting memory of fields of sunflowers from June. Such a brutally cheerful plant! Stay upright and keep grinning!


The subway station is nearly empty. The train for Kokusaikaikan rolls in...


I get off at the last stop. I pick up indifferent prepared foods at the supermarket and go home to work and eat cold noodles bathed in soy sauce out of a free packet that they give out at the market.