A Trip Around the World, Part 6

Fontainebleau
Chateau de Fontainebleau

On the morning of Friday, July 7, the Moscow-Paris Express pulled into Gare de l’Est, and the long train journey that had begun in Vladivostok eleven days before was over.

Pretty Parisian courtyard. We were on the 6th floor (or, as we say in the U.S., the 7th floor). No elevator!

I was thrilled to be in Paris. And delighted to be reunited with my husband, who flew into Paris that morning to meet me. And happy to be back on terra firma and in a proper apartment, one with a kitchen and a bathroom not shared with strangers.

But I was also a little sad to leave the train. Life on the rails had entailed a kind of directed simplicity that I came to appreciate.

Without television or radio, newspapers (that I could read, anyway), or, for much of the time, Internet access, I felt less distracted than I had in ages. All I could do was look out the window, eat, sleep, talk to my friend Chris, chat with other passengers, read, write, and think.

And yet without any effort on our part, we continued to roll inexorably along, getting closer and closer to our destination.

I might have come as close as I’ve ever come to that attitude of “non-striving” much talked of among mindfulness and meditation practitioners.

It was a bit shocking to leave that and thrust myself back into the world of people and news and traffic and daily, hourly decisions about how to spend my time. And now I’ve been home for three weeks, during which I haven’t even managed to update this blog, so manifold and urgent have seemed all the distractions.

Anyway. I think I accomplished a lot during my ten days in Paris. I say “think” because people keep asking me how the trip has influenced the book I’m working on, and honestly: I have no idea.

rue Victor Masse
Building where Akiko & Hiroshi stayed in Paris in 1912

I mean, Dan and I went to and saw a lot of the places that Akiko and her husband Hiroshi went to and saw while they were in Paris. The building on rue Victor-Massé where they stayed for four months. The neighborhoods they explored on foot. The Chateau de Fontainebleau, about which Akiko wrote twenty tanka.

We visited both locales of the Musée Rodin—both the crowded Hôtel Biron site in Paris and the much quieter site in Meudon, just southwest of Paris, where Rodin lived for many years with Rose Beuret.

Villa des Brillants, Meudon, Musée Rodin
At the Villa des Brillants, Rodin’s house in Meudon

Akiko and Hiroshi and an artist friend of theirs had visited both sites as well—arriving first at the Villa des Brillants in Meudon, letter of introduction in hand, in hopes of meeting the great master, only to learn that he was at his workshop in the city. Beuret apparently lent them the use of her carriage and coachman so they could hurry back to the city. [1] Rodin received them quite courteously, and Akiko would report that she presented him with the first two volumes of her modern-Japanese translation of The Tale of Genji.[2]

It was wonderful to be able to walk about these places and think about these events.

But did I gain indispensable or even useful insights about Akiko and her trip that I could not have gained otherwise? I don’t know yet. Do I now have a clear (or even clearer) direction for the project? Not really. I have a lot of swirly ideas swirling about in my head as swirls are wont to do.

Rodin, Musée Rodin, Paris
Maybe Rodin received Akiko in this parlor at the Hôtel Biron, now home to the Musée Rodin in Paris

And maybe that’s fine, as far as it goes. For now, anyway. I’m hoping that in the relatively near future, this “swirliness” will settle into something more coherent.

In truth, I learned more about myself during this trip than about Akiko. Maybe most trips are like that—you set out to encounter something other than yourself, but end up contending with that most persistent of travel companions, your own person, with all its baggage and preconceived notions and unmet yearnings.

Those lessons would require another post, so I won’t divulge any of them here.

Meanwhile, however, I have a book to write. A book for which to strive.

 

Notes:

[1] Matsudaira Meiko, “Akiko no Pari 1912 nen” (Akiko’s Paris 1912), Part 9, Tanka kenkyū, March 2001, p. 149.

[2] G. G. Rowley, Yosano Akiko and the Tale of Genji, Ann Arbor, MI: Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, 2000, p. 72.

A Trip Around the World, Part 5

IMG_3517
Yaroslavsky Station, Moscow

Tomorrow morning, if all goes well, my friend Chris and I arrive in Paris, and our long train journey from Vladivostok will be over.

We’ve been pretty fortunate on this trip: almost everything has gone well. We’ve stayed healthy; Chris and I are still fast friends after being together night and day for 11 days and over 8300 miles; and even the weather has cooperated, gifting us with mild temperatures and pretty skies whenever we actually had to be outdoors.

But yesterday we were in Moscow, and it was without a doubt the low point of our trip. Continue reading

A Trip Around the World, Part 4

Writing on train. (Photo by Chris)

It’s Sunday, July 2, as I begin this new entry, and my friend Chris and I are back on the Trans-Siberian Railway, having traveled from Vladivostok to Irkutsk and spent a day and a half in the town of Listvyanka on the shores of Lake Baikal.

It seems like we’ve been traveling for days, yet we’re not even halfway between Vladivostok and Moscow. We’ll pass that milestone sometime this afternoon.

Akiko didn’t write that many poems about her train trip from Vladivostok to Moscow. But we do know about her Trans-Siberian journey from her account Pari made [パリまで、To Paris], which was published in four installments in the Asahi shimbun newspaper.*

And I’m really struck by the differences between our two journeys. Continue reading

Around the World in 35 Days, Part 3

Sea of Japan at dawn, seen from ferry window

I’ve started composing this installment of my travel report aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway, late at night, someplace between Vladivostok and Khabarovsk.

I hope in a few days to be able to post something entertaining about this train trip, but tonight I’m going to tell you about the two-day/two-night ferry trip between Japan and Russia. This was the segment that occasioned the most anxiety for me before I set off from landlocked Davis, California. Continue reading

Around the World in 35 Days, Part 2

Yosano Akiko birthplace, Sakai, Japan

By the time you read this, I will likely already be in Russia. But I started drafting this post in Japan, on the shinkansen (bullet train) after leaving Osaka on Thursday, June 22, to wend my way north and west toward the port town of Sakaiminato.

I included Osaka on my itinerary because Yosano Akiko, the subject of my next novel, was from the nearby city of Sakai. The house where she was born in 1878 is no longer there, but there’s a site on one of the main thoroughfares in the city that indicates where it used to be. I paid my respects on a rainy afternoon. Continue reading

Around the World in 35 Days, Part 1

Yosano Akiko

The subject of my next novel, another historical project about an epic journey, is the Japanese poet and feminist Yosano Akiko (1878-1942).

In 1912, at the age of 33, Akiko left her home in Tokyo and traveled by herself to Paris. This alone was unusual enough. Ever since the 1880s, a stream of Japanese artists and intellectuals had been making their way to the West, some to Europe, some to the U.S., but very few of those travelers were women. And fewer yet traveled alone.  Continue reading

Our Year in Reading 2016

Rabih Alameddine, Christian Kracht, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Books we both read and loved

This was the year my husband read more—a lot more—than I did.

There were two simple reasons for this: He read more, and I read less.

He joined two book clubs in 2016, which explains, at least in part, his impressive list. He read so many books this year that he spent over an hour typing up and annotating his list. Then, after handing me the notebook where we record our completed books, he suddenly cried out, “Wait! I need that back. I skipped a whole page.”

Show-off. Continue reading