Thursday, April 27, 2006


It's funny how we're amazed
by the simple victories
of the very young
and the very old:
"The baby took his first steps today"
"Grandma walked by herself today"
in constant motion

opening, closing
closing, opening

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

In Memoriam: Master Funakoshi Gichin

Funakoshi Gichin,

Founder, Shotokan Karate-do
Nov. 10, 1868 - April 26, 1957

"The ultimate aim of the art of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Happy Birthday, Miyagi-Sensei!

Miyagi Chojun,

Founder, Goju-ryu Karate
April-25, 1888 - Oct. 8, 1953

"Ho goju donto"
("The way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness")

Monday, April 24, 2006

Dropping off

Farmer, Yokaichiba City, Chiba Prefecture, Japan, March 1998, by Michael

One narrow path surrounded by a dense forest;
On all sides, mountains lie in darkness.
The autumn leaves have already fallen.
No rain, but still the rocks are dark with moss.
Returning to my hermitage along a way known to few,
Carrying a basket of fresh mushrooms
And a jar of pure water from the temple well.

Friday, April 21, 2006


When I arrived in Japan in 1995, Hiromi was a sixth-grader at an elementary school at which I taught once a week.
Hers was just one face in a sea of children.
I first met her when she was a seventh-grader the following year at the junior high at which I was based. She was a very clever, introspective student with a burning desire to see and experience the world around her and the world beyond the horizon.
This year, she graduated from college.
On Tuesday, I'm picking her up at JFK Airport in New York as she begins a one-year intensive program in English language studies at a school in Manhattan. She'll be living either in Brooklyn or Staten Island with a homestay family.
It's staggering to me that so much time has passed so quickly.
We've been in sporadic contact over the years. When I returned to Japan in 2004, I made a point of getting together with her, her mother and her younger sister, who I also taught in elementary school.
I feel old, but proud.
Hiromi's continuing interest in English suggests that what I thought was a futile effort to get junior high kids (who were every bit as rowdy and obnoxious as their U.S. counterparts) to be interested in a culture other than their own wasn't a waste of time at all.
To that one face in a sea of children, I made a difference.

Monday, April 17, 2006

18-Mile Easter Parade, Part 2

More scenes along the path ...

"He is risen"
Acrobats in Central Park

Manhattan Bridge Plaza, gateway to Brooklyn

Manhattan Bridge, a long stretch of solitude

Goodnight, Brooklyn Bridge

18-Mile Easter Parade, Part 1

Ever since last weekend, I had a bee in my bonnet to do my North Jersey-to-Brooklyn walk. Sunday's fine weather was an irresistable lure.
I wanted to walk across the George Washington Bridge to the Manhattan Bridge, cross the Manhattan Bridge and walk down to the Brooklyn Bridge and take this bridge back into Manhattan and up to Columbus Circle at 59th and Broadway -- 22 miles, all told.
I even awoke early (around 9 a.m.) to give myself plenty of time.
But my morning two cups of tea were followed by a third cup. And a fourth. And a fifth. And then a leisurely breakfast.
Next thing I knew, it was 2 o'clock.
I'm not very good at making plans.
Maybe I should stop making them.
Besides, on a weekend (and during the week, too) I don't like to be rushed.

My route was the usual one: Cross the GWB, hug the Hudson River trail down to 95th Street, then off the trail east to Riverside Drive and down to 75th Street. I walked across Central Park to 72nd Street, east to First Avenue, and downtown.
By the time I got to 10th Street it was about 6 p.m.
I was at a crossroads: I could continue down to my friend's restaurant in the East Village and then back up to Columbus Circle and content myself with a 12-mile walk, or I could make a bee line for Brooklyn.

I followed the bee.
I made a right turn to Third Avenue, walked down Third until it becomes the Bowery, trudged down past Houston Street to Canal, and headed over the Manhattan Bridge.
I walked to the end of the Manhattan Bridge and backtracked.
It's a good thing I didn't go for the Brooklyn Bridge, because I would never have gotten back up to the GWB by midnight, when the footpath closes on Sundays. The last thing I would've wanted would have been to find myself stranded at the GWB bus station at 178th Street, waiting, waiting, waiting into the wee hours of the morning for a bus on a holiday schedule just to cross over the bridge.
I reached the GWB with about 20 minutes to spare.

I'll dispense with the narrative now. Here's what I saw on the way:

Central Park

Winston the Cat lounging in his Easter finery in Central Park

The 59th Street Bridge (officially known as the Queensborough Bridge)

Entryway, Riverside Drive

... and indeed it does, at 83rd and Riverside Drive

The cable guards mounted to the uprights of this fence are hollow. It was a windy day on the river, and the wind blowing over the tops of the guards made an eerie sound, sort of like blowing across the top of a milk bottle but much more ethereal, especially with so many of them sounding at once. I felt as if I were being lured by the Sirens to the rocks below.

Double amputee

Fun in the shadow of the GWB

To be continued ...

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Strange dream

During the night, I found myself back in Japan to pay a visit to the junior high school where I taught a decade ago.
It was completely unrecognizable. The buildings were unlike those I remember.
Gone was the familiar oval dirt running track. In its place was a sprawling, rectangular expanse of manicured, deep-green grass on which the students were flying an enormous, diamond-shaped kite of a golden hue that was breathtaking in the sunlight.
The kite was so large that students were strapped to the ends of its cross-brace to give it stability in the wind.

Then I was ushered into a dimly lit building where a ceremony to honor Japan's military and civilian war dead was about to start.
On the steps leading up to the building, a fellow foreigner asked me to identify a Buddhist relic he had purchased, a kitchen timer in the shape of a lotus on a long stalk. It's from the Shingon sect, I told him, and he melted away.

Upon entering the building, the drone of chatter stopped and the room grew silent as a tomb as a square table was brought in. The table was covered by a dark cloth, and a similar cloth was draped over the centerpiece.
The attendees formed two or three single-file lines facing the table.
Officiating was one of the teachers I had known long ago, a short, stocky, cheerful fellow who had played American football for his college club team in Tokyo.
In the dream, he was of a solemn, deadly serious demeanor I had never seen during the years I knew him in real life.

The table was wheeled into place and the cloth was taken off the centerpiece: A World War II military hat encircled by several Homburgs and fedoras from the same period.
I thought to myself what a poignant tribute this was.
The teacher said a few words I couldn't quite catch and then bowed deeply to the memorial.
Everyone followed suit. In front of me was another teacher friend. His bow was so formal, so deep that it sent me, the last person in line, sliding clear out the door of the building as if I had been propelled backward on ice.

The last part of the dream I still remember is that I began to cry over the powerful symbolism of this memorial, hats whose owners had been killed.
Thank you for this dream, Mr. Guinness and your incomparable stout.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Top of the pops, circa 1450

I thought this would make a good item for show and tell.
About 20 years ago -- I was living in Philadelphia and working as a horse-and-carriage driver at the time -- I bought this piece of music out of my love for music in general.
It's Italian, from the 15th century and is written on vellum, or sheepskin. It had been part of a church songbook that some genius long ago likely took apart so as to sell the leaves individually for maximum profit.

When I was much younger, I could read music. This ability has since atrophied into illiteracy. But I can follow the general course of the melody, even if the musical notation is different from that used today.
The Latin words are a mystery to me, though. I recognize an allelujia here, an os quia omnia there, but it's mostly Greek to me. (Any of you lovers of Latin out there wanna give a crack at a translation?)

The thing that most moves me is that even after 600 years, this melody still fills the air, even if sung by a choir whose delicate voices can be heard only in my imagination.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Koan of the fourth dimension

I bought this kitchen timer over the weekend.
I can set it.
I can stop it and restart it.
But it can't be reset to zero.
The instructions don't cover this minor detail.
The only way I've found to get it back to zero is to remove the battery and reinsert it. Or, I can simply wait for it to count down to zero.
Technology speaks volumes.

Self-Portrait Tuesday, April 11, 2006

East Village, Manhattan, April 9, 2006

Sunday, April 09, 2006

I walked the walk ...

New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge

I couldn't have picked a finer day to return to the road Sunday.
After a layoff of more than a month, I did my familiar 12-mile urban hike from North Jersey to Manhattan's East Village and partway back.
The sky was a beautiful cerulean blue and the temperature was in the 50s. Corny as it may sound, it was almost as if Mother Nature were welcoming me back.
Welcoming me and a hundred thousand other people, most of them cyclists.

In bloom along the river path

The pedestrian/cycle path over the George Washington Bridge is about 10 feet wide, which seems quite narrow on a fine day when the volume of walkers and cyclists is high.
Many cyclists seem to feel a sense of entitlement to the lion's share of the path.
Usually, it's the cyclists in the regulation togs -- the matching team jerseys, aerodynamically designed helmets and so on -- who are the biggest offenders.
They ride two abreast, sometimes three.
They seem to feel they're betraying their image if they're not traveling at maximum speed over the bridge, even if traffic volume and common sense dictate otherwise.
They zip by pedestrians and fellow cyclists with no warning of "Coming up behind you" or "Coming up on your left."
Their anger and frustration are palpable when they apply the brakes to avoid hitting a walker or jogger well within the confines of that part of the path clearly marked for pedestrians.
They wouldn't give you the steam off their piss if you were freezing to death.
I think cycling is a fine sport and great exercise. I used to do a lot of it myself until I allowed neglect to turn my mountain bike into a rust bucket.
All we need is a little more sharing of the road.

A "Mr. Driftwood" opus

On my usual walk down the path along the Hudson River, I passed sign after sign that the sculptor known as "Mr. Driftood" had been hard at work. We must've just missed each other. He left about 15 sculptures in his wake. The one above is among the more cryptic.
The last time we saw each other was on a frigid Sunday in mid-February when the icy wind off the river made stopping to chat even for a few minutes a painful endeavor.
I wonder if we would recognize each other without our cold-weather gear.

Along Riverside Drive

From the river path, I walked east to Riverside Drive, headed down a few blocks and then east to Broadway for lunch at a favorite diner.
Then I walked east through Central Park.
When the weather is so gorgeous that staying indoors violates a law of Nature, Central Park teems with walkers, joggers, inline skaters, horse-drawn carriages, street musicians, panhandlers, chess players, people watchers, Frisbee tossers, promenaders, shutterbugs, boaters, picnickers, thinkers, doers, saints and sinners.
No matter how much of a rush you're in upon entering the park, the crowds and the scenic beauty force you to slow down.

Boaters on the lake

Park path

Angel of the Waters fountain

Angel of the Waters fountain

Once through the park, I walked down quiet First Avenue to the East Village, alone with my thoughts, the crowds left far behind.
Next week, weather permitting, I'd like to do my 22-mile circuit to Brooklyn.
It has been a while.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

And so here I am

I'm back, for the most part.
I knew I would be. And I knew the respite would be brief.
Suffice it to say that I go through cyclical periods of what some people call "the blahs," what Winston Churchill called his "black dog" and what I know is depression. I see no reason to dance around it or euphemize it.
The important thing is that, like everything else, it passes -- at least for me, and in this I consider myself lucky.
The lows can get pretty low, but they give way to highs of equal intensity. But neither lasts, and I haven't needed medication to help the circle along. Truth to tell, I wouldn't even consider that approach. The roller coaster ride can actually be fun in a weird way, now that I've been on it so many times.
And so here I am.

It's a rainy day here. I'll go to karate class, and I'll read and nap upon my return home.
This day was made to order.
I'm in the middle of a great novel by Herman Melville, one of my favorite authors. No, it's not "Moby-Dick," the novel that sank his career like the white whale sank the Pequod. This one's titled "White-Jacket; or, The World in a Man-of-War." It's based on Melville's real-life experiences in the U.S. Navy, and was the last book he published before "Moby-Dick." After the whaling novel, the poor man couldn't give his books away.
When he died in 1891, The New York Times spelled his name wrong ("Henry Melville") in its obituary. The obituary writer for another New York newspaper wrote that he thought Melville had died many years earlier.

Coincidentally, it was depression, a "damp, drizzly November in my soul," that drove Ishmael, the narrator of "Moby-Dick," to the sea. And when today's damp, drizzly April day gives way to what is supposed to be a fine day tomorrow, I'm heading to Manhattan for one of my long, long walks.
It's about time to set sail.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Before I go ...

Priests-in-training returning from daily begging rounds, Soji-ji temple, Yokohama, Japan, 1998, by Michael

Some people walk on water
Some people walk on broken glass
Some just walk round and round in their dreams
And some just keep falling down ...

... And you? You're no one
And you? You're falling
And you? You're traveling
Traveling at the speed of light ...

--Laurie Anderson,
from "Ramon"


I'll be taking a few days off from blogging to give myself time to clear my head. I'm going through a rough stretch, unrelated to health as far as I can tell. It's just a part of life's cyclical nature. As with everything, it will pass.