2007-11-07

No Iron Maiden Posters in Japan

Dave here. I'm back in France.

I want to talk about some things that happened as I was coming back from the US yesterday, but let me start by saying that it’s impossible to comprehend how big, and full of people, this world is.

When I was 15 years old I took my first trip outside the US, for three weeks to Japan as a foreign exchange student. The family I was staying with, the Inoues, from Himeji (near Osaka if that means anything), lived in a nice house in the suburbs. I don’t know where they actually lived because they drive on the wrong side of the road in Japan and it was so confusing that I never knew where I was. I also don’t know what the father did for work but it probably involved speaking Japanese, which seemed like a really hard thing to do when I was there. So he probably got paid a lot of money, for doing something so difficult. And their house was nice. He was a really nice guy, and very generous. He didn’t speak English and he smoked in the house and slurped his food at every meal and had jagged teeth, but he was a nice dude. The food slurping bothered me a little, but I later learned that that’s not considered impolite in Japan. Plus it was the 80’s.

From the outside their house was normal. Japanese, but pretty normal. But when they gave me a tour of the inside I noticed three things:

  1. the house had no beds, because everyone slept on the floor
  2. all the doors were sliding doors, on tracks in the floor that separated one room from another
  3. the walls were made of paper

I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to live in a house with paper walls. If someone was in another room with the light on it would shine right in your eyes. Plus my Iron Maiden poster would never have worked on that wall. The tacks would have gone straight through it. No Iron Maiden posters in Japan. Perhaps that's why they invented Pokemon.

One Saturday Mr. Inoue and his son Takeshi took me to the city center in Himeji so I could see it for myself. As we stood together at a busy intersection waiting to cross the street, I looked around and for a moment tried to take in what I was seeing. There were literally thousands of people everywhere, milling about in a very small area. To my 15 year-old brain they were like ants, moving in all different directions, heads down on their way to something important at the time. Every one of them looked exactly the same to me. They were all short with round faces and thick black hair. The US is a pretty diverse place in terms of Mendelian Genetics. France is too. Japan is not.

I looked at the people and said to myself, “Every one of these people thinks he/she is the most important person on earth. But that can't be true because the most important person in the world is me. I’ve never seen or heard of any of them, they don’t mean anything to me, and I will never see them again after this moment.” For the first time I was trying to comprehend the size of this world, and that in the grand scheme of things I meant nothing. It was stretching my mind.

In the ensuing twenty years, the increasing accessibility of the world's corners has only brought its enormity into starker relief. Yesterday I was at the Mormon Church on 51st Avenue and Pinnacle Peak Road in Glendale, AZ. I spoke with Courtney Dana, Larissa Boden, Kim Easton, Matt Robinson, and Sam Andrus. They’re all different people leading totally different lives, but all are very nice. Courtney has an amazing sense of humor and is really fun to be around. But, frankly, I like all of them. Especially Larissa, who I would marry if she wasn’t so religious and if I wasn’t already married to someone I really like. Plus my wife speaks French now and Larissa doesn’t. So I guess it’s never going to work out between us.

Only a few hours after seeing these people at perhaps the most American of churches, I’m now on a train watching the French landscape change from the falling red and orange leaves in Paris to the vineyards, cypresses, scrub oaks and pines of Provence. Sitting next to me is Costa. Costa has a bit of wild look in his eyes, perhaps from not sleeping enough, or from drinking too much beer or (most likely) from smoking too much weed. The train ride from Paris is five hours long, so there is more time to talk to Costa than words I know in French. So we mostly ride in silence as I tap away on my computer. But he's a nice guy and he knows more about the TGV than I do. About an hour ago he helped me find an outlet - in the bathroom in our train car - so I could recharge my iPod. Since I had to keep my eye on the iPod we both sat outside the bathroom and chatted for twenty minutes while I waited for it to charge so I could go back to listening to Natalie Merchant. He just wanted to smoke.

“Is smoking allowed on the train?” I asked him, knowing perfectly well that it wasn’t. “No,” said Costa. “But the ride is five hours. I’ve been smoking for so long that I can’t go more than two hours without having a cigarette.” His red eyes darted around, looking for the “Controle", who are the guys that will throw you off the train if they catch you smoking.

Since he was smoking and I was recharging, we got to know each other. Costa was born in Puerto Rico and immigrated to France with his parents when he was three years old. The rest of his family – grandparents and cousins – immigrated to Los Angeles about the same time. Thirty years and eight billion self-rolled cigarettes later, Costa is now working in an industry that has something to do with food. I think he’s a cook. I’m not sure. “I’ve been to California twice,” he said. But there’s no point going again because I can’t speak English and no one there speaks French. So I don’t see my grandparents and cousins anymore.”

“Do you speak Spanish?” I asked. “Pas du tout,” he responded. “I only speak French at six million miles per hour.” I’m not sure he said that last part but he might have. I wouldn’t have understood him if he did.

“I don’t get it,” I said. “Your parents are from Puerto Rico. Why don’t you speak Spanish?”

Vous devez demander à mon parents,” he responded. “When we came to France I think they decided I needed to learn French and so they encouraged me to speak it as often as possible, even at home. By the time I was a teen-ager I would only speak to them in French and since I became an adult I’ve forgotten most of the Spanish that I once knew.”

I explained to him why Stasha and I have come here, and that I hope the kids can learn French better than I'll ever be able to. “Oh they will,” he responded. If I can learn it then they will for sure. I wish you the best of luck in your experience.” I got up to retrieve my iPod just as the train reached our first stop: Toulon, a town about an hour from Mougins. A lot of people got off the train and left empty seats behind them. Looking for extra space, Costa grabbed his stuff and went and found an empty seat in another car. In an hour I will get off the train in Cannes and he will continue on to Nice, fifteen miles further up the track. I will never see him again.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Larissa said...

I might possibly consider your flirtatious assumption of marrying me if I wasn't also already in love with someone who loves my Spanish and my "religiousness." (Is that a word?) :) Part of one of the amazing things that I think about this vast, comprehensive world is that we somehow find one person with whom we share enough in common with to get along with for the rest of our lives. Amazing!
Dave you have some serious jetlag. Get some sleep. :)

8.11.07  
Blogger C'est La Vie said...

Just a quick disclaimer regarding the humor of my husband. When I first married into the Ashton family, I had little to no experience with people so committed to being sarcastic and making tongue-in-cheek comments. 12 years and four children later, I have become so used to Dave's "joking" that I forget other people might not "get" him.

If Dave writes something that seems bizarre to you, he is just trying to be funny. Keep that in mind whenever he decides to guest blog for me!

Oh, by the way, French people don't think he is very funny. ;)

9.11.07  
Blogger Larissa said...

How sad for the French people that they don't get Dave! They are missing out on a whole lot of fun and a good education. Miss you guys!

10.11.07  
Anonymous Kimberlee Easton said...

Hi guys...I've been hearing about this blog and this is my first time reading one, period! Well done, I like it! It's really like reading a journal of someones inner thoughts and feelings. I so admire your courage and ambition to do this experience, plus I have so liked getting to know Virginie, she is really great. What an experience! It was so fun to see you Dave on Sunday. I miss you guys, especially at social gatherings! everyone seams to be moving away, one by one. At least you guys will only be gone a year. Have a great week!

11.11.07  

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