I have been thinking of our old house in Japan. The rickety, unheated, old house where winds rushed up skirts from between the floorboards and where, in winter, a blanket of snow would sometimes rest on top of our bed covers in the morning, having slipped in through the cracks around the windows during the night. A paper-door maze of squeaking tatami mats and too-low door frames that I was forever forgetting to duck for.
|My best-loved bicycle sits just off to the right in a shelter meant for a car, but so much nicer for bicycles and geckos.|
It was a house on a street too narrow to have been meant for cars. There was a small field of vegetables on one side where bonnet- and apron-wearing old ladies would spend their days, while most of the men slept so they would be ready to spend their nights fishing squid in tiny boats strung with lines of enormous light bulbs. In the winter, the winds that blew off the sea were strong enough to keep you standing if you tried to fall in to them, and always the mountains sat on all sides of us, some of them even standing in the sea.
|Dr. Seuss trees from the bedroom window.|
I had been thinking of all this as I stoked the fire this past week, in the time after our boiler broke. Luckily for me I had two gifts to keep me warm: a hanten brought back from Japan and five pairs of very thick socks (or foot sweaters, as the letter said) knitted in stripes of colour and sent to me from an old friend in Canada (they arrived just the day before the heat went off).
|A hanten is a sort of padded coat for wearing inside during the winter in rural Japan.|
Of course, we managed much better here, with the fire and all, and the problem was fixed without too much delay. Men came shouting at 8AM the other morning, calling to each other from the loft to our apartment, searching out the boiler, and most probably making us very unpopular with all the other tenement dwellers, though they were very friendly to us. But it seems that once the cold memories had crept in, they were hard to chase out. I was left thinking of the mountains...
... each of them with a name that the very old man next door would tell us as he sketched out maps for us. He used to surprise me with bouquets of stolen flowers and sit in our kitchen talking (with my husband translating for me) until his wife would come and chase him back to his house, full of the amazing Buddhist statues he had carved or sculpted.
I've also been thinking of that sea, so different from the North Sea. In August there is the Japanese festival of the dead, Obon, and after that no one swims in the ocean for the rest of the year, though it stays as warm as bathwater until October. Perhaps they never know the joy of swimming on the nights in early fall when the sea lights up into an infinity of underwater stars. The luminescence of the water grows more intense with every swimming stroke, splashing about causing sunken fireworks, star showers. We came across this phenomenon without warning and, disbelieving our eyes at first, filled with wonder.
And the other wonder of that sea at night, the illusion of bonfires moving slowly across the water at the horizon. There was a lot of discussion of the possible explanations for this, until, months later, we finally learned that it was the fishermen shining great bright lights to attract squid to their boats. Still, I doubt that even if we had stayed there a hundred years, that all of the daily marvels of the place would have ever been transformed into satisfying bits of explanation and fact.