D E L I R I O U S (a celebration, and exploration, of all things jasmine, featuring: JASMIN DE NUIT by THE DIFFERENT COMPANY + ACASIOSA by CARON + JASMINE ATTAR by AMOUAGE + VENT DE JASMIN by IL PROFUMO + VELVET DESIRE by DOLCE & GABBANA + OPHELIA by HEELEY + A LA NUIT by SERGE LUTENS + IKAT JASMINE by ERIN LAUDER + JARDIN BLANC by MAITRE PARFUMEUR ET GANTIER + FLEURS D’OMBRE JASMIN LILAS by JEAN CHARLES BROSSEAU + VOILE DE JASMIN by BULGARI + IMPERIAL TEA by KILIAN + FIRST by VAN CLEEF & ARPELS + ECLAT DE JASMIN by ARMANI PRIVE + WHITE JASMINE & MINT by JO MALONE + JASMINE FULL by MONTALE + NIGHT BLOOMING JASMINE by FLORIS + GIANFRANCO FERRE + SARRASINS by SERGE LUTENS + LA REINE MARGOT by LES PARFUMS HISTORIQUES + LUST by GORILLA PERFUMES + LOVE AND TEARS by BY KILIAN + GELSOMINO by SANTA MARIA NOVELLA +PALAIS JAMAIS by ETRO + JASMIN ET CIGARETTE by ETAT LIBRE D’ORANGE + CAROLINA HERRERA + LE JASMIN by ANNICK GOUTAL + ORIO by MONA DI ORIO + SAMSARA by GUERLAIN + JASMIN ROUGE by TOM FORD + JAZMIN by LE JARDIN DE JIMMY BOYD + OLENE by DIPTYQUE + SONGES by ANNICK GOUTAL + EVA EVANTHIA’S INDIAN JASMINE )
I went in to work yesterday to be asked: ” Have you heard about the vaccine? “
” No. What’s happened? “
“If you want it, you have to sign up today, and you can get it as early as Monday”.
I was loopy: ecstatic. Amazed.
“What? Really? Oh my god. YATTA!! YES! FINALLY!!!!!!!!!!’
I will admit I did dance a little, and even sang the chorus of Handel’s Hallelujah, but quickly felt dampened by the muted pressure in the teacher’s room. A sense of……… this is an uncomfortable topic. ‘It is a delicate issue, so we must not speak our thoughts openly in case we offend another person’ type of deal. Dullsville, thought I. Christ. Jesus. Can’t I even have a moment of unadulterated excitement, just once, at such a historic moment, when all I want and have wanted and have been able to think about for over a year like most rational people is getting this shot in my arm so I don’t have to think about it any more? Why isn’t anyone looking especially pleased? Not now.
The news couldn’t possibly have come at a better time. I was almost at the end of my tether this week, truly starting to lose it. Worryingly so, D telling me I was going to have a heart attack. Stuck on a 50 minute train ride in crowded conditions, on Wednesday, ill-advisedly reading two terrifying articles in the New York Times about whole neighbourhoods wiped out in New Delhi, bodies left on the streets uncollected outside houses, utterly awful;the personal experience of a top Japanese-American surgeon who was touch and go on a ventilator…….by the time I got to my destination I was gasping like a lacerated fish. I had a meltdown; tachycardia; extreme anxiety. A feeling of not being able to take any more. Of nothing happening. Of just going on in this numbing but perilous situation and feeling permanently scared.
So I had decided to take action. I started making plans with a rebellious and unconventional Japanese colleague and friend of mine at the company to get the vaccine by hook or by crook; by any means necessary, even underhand. Lying if necessary. I didn’t care. Fiddle the system. I had to have the vaccine. And that was all. We were planning ways to go on a ‘vaccine adventure’ to the mass inoculation sites in Tokyo in Otemachi and take our chances. Find a way. I really have felt that I have been getting very close to the edge.
So to be told – out of the blue, no inkling that we would all be immediately eligible – that what I have been aching; desperate for, had suddenly, unexpectedly become a reality was like a boulder being dislodged in a river. Heaven. Which is why I found myself tearing up intermittently throughout the day; emotions surging through. To me, it is beyond obvious that vaccination is the way to get us out of this situation: the statistics prove it; epidemiologists and virus specialists are adamant about it, it is common sense; obliviously simple; but no: the three people sitting nearest to me told me with a slight sense of embarrassment (but also I thought I detected some form of pride as well) that they were definitely were not intending to have the jab.
‘Really? My god, I am so excited. Why?” Seriously? And each gave his reasons: wanting to ‘wait a little longer’ (????!!!!!!!!!!! with the Olympics around the corner?) : a nervousness, a profound sense of caution and wariness of side effects: three out of the six present. In the school I went to afterwards nearby, two abstainers out of seven, one unsure. No one happy. Heads down, working. No one exuberant, apart from me. Just a normal day on the job.
I had no option but to completely block them out of my mind. I was screaming to get out of there, but also too happy to be exasperated any more. I have so much anger stored up in me and it is affecting my health. I just want to get back to normal, to teach – which I do actually enjoy – without feeling asphyxiated. To see their faces again. Surely this should now be a turning point, a move in a more wonderful direction. And, up to a point, I respect the vaccine skeptics’ decisions. I do think that declining the vaccination is their choice. That goes without saying. The whole ‘I control what is put in my body’ movement is neither ideologically left nor right; it is more a deep personal conviction, the drawing of a personal line in the sand. ‘You will not inject me with an unknown substance that could be hazardous to my health when up to now I have been fine as I am. Just in my mask. Going on as usual’. I know it’s up to them. Personally I think it is completely stupid, and reckless, given that we are teachers FFS but you know, I was too much in my own moment – and what a moment it was, yesterday! – to let myself be touched too much by all this excessive caution, passive aggression and stubbornness. If they want to get corona, fine.
Later on in the evening, after terrible lessons – I just wanted out of there: (D was meeting me later for cans in the park): I can’t think of another time in my life when I have more wanted a >>FFWD button, to just fast forward to the night, I just wanted to breathe and be alone or with him and celebrate this fantastic news. This feeling of total exhilaration.
Before leaving, I had to go up to the head office to have someone help me fill in the application forms – the procedure itself has unfortunately been put off by a week, due to some logistical issue, even if it is still possible that I could still have it as early as next Saturday. But just the fact that there were application forms to fill had me beaming from ear to ear; the reality there in front of me. My Japanese supervisor’s eyes were brimming with glee as well: no mask can hide such happiness. He had a real bounce in his step, a sense of YES. FINALLY WE CAN GET OUT OF THIS NIGHTMARE.
‘Are you having the vaccine?’ I had said the moment I walked in.
As if any other option could only have been formed in the mind of a total imbecile.
I couldn’t stop talking when I met D. I talked his ear off, blabbering and swigging back beer, feeling an unloosening. A panorama expanding. And when we got home, we sat on the balcony, where I have been slowly constructing a lush, tropical garden with a coconut tree, banana, pineapple, orchids, birds of paradise, hanging plants, our private haven (if you can’t go out anywhere, you make your own world). He fell asleep with the soft rain falling beyond, just the sound of water on leaves and the smell of the air, and then eventually went to bed. I myself ended up sitting there all night. ALL NIGHT. Until dawn. Just lost in my thoughts, feeling the rain pattering; my heart opening gratefully to the scent of Madagascan jasmine.
Sometimes I almost forget how much beauty there lies on my doorstep. Recently one day, tired of stewing in my own juices, but with ‘nowhere to go’, I decided on impulse to go and sit in a temple.
Only five minutes by bicycle from my house, and with a mere ¥200 ticket entry charge, I decided on Jōchiji, the ‘fourth most important Zen temple in Kamakura’, founded in 1281, and a true haven of peace and quiet. With only four people in the temple and grounds aside some workers, I found myself gradually sinking into an almost trance-like state of tranquillity, ‘below reality’, as though I were cooling into another realm.
While the more impressive temples – which I equally love: the main Engaku-ji at Kitakamakura station is said to have in its possession an actual tooth of the Buddha – a national treasure, may be more frequently visited, even during this period, the lesser known ones are practically empty. I have always loved the entrance to Jōchi-ji, and in fact, four years ago, after being stuck inside for weeks after knee surgery, the first place I went to outside of the house was the grounds of this temple I feel for some reason particularly attuned to. A Japanese neighbour drove me down, and we just sat and talked and took in the quiet atmosphere.
At the centre of the complex is a wooden house. On this particular day, the shōbu irises had just opened, and the onlookers, almost unmoving, sat in silence, some training their camerallenses on particular flowers. I watched a temple priestess slowly closing shoji doors; the scene felt like a living painting.
The sun was starting to go down.
After absorbing as much as Jochiji as I could, I cycled to another temple in the centre of Kamakura whose name I can never remember.
I was the only person there.
I stayed a while; bought some incense from the inner sanctum, and left.
Stressful times need calming perfumes. And in summer I need green.
I came home the other night to find a beautiful extrait of the classic Antilope, by furrier brothers Weil, a floral aldehyde with an unusually bright grassy drydown like nothing else, sitting on the kitchen table. D had found it at an antiques place in Kamakura he had never ventured into before (they had a box of old perfumes I will need to go and investigate at the earliest opportunity).
I have said everything I needed to say about this perfume in my primary review, but I just thought that I would share with you the treasure.
Where to begin?
We are all sick of talking about it.
So move on and ignore this if you are tired of hearing and reading and talking and worrying about this virus.
It is hardly a new story.
And I am going to repeat myself.
It was just that it struck me, coming home last night, utterly exhausted from my pre-evaluation week of teaching avidly in masks, how unchanging it has all been, for so long (so sick of masks: those of you that were able to stay at home in lockdown or for self-protection will have only been using them for the rare occasions in which you went outside. In Japan, life is masked. Everywhere. All the time. All day long.It drags you down. You can’t breathe properly. You cannot see people’s features. It is going to be shocking to see faces again (sometimes I am amazed/horrified/enchanted/ mesmerized when someone pulls down their mask and reveals their true face. Their true face. It is fascinating how the features dissolve and rearrange themselves: you have seen only the eyes for so long and have only imagined what the rest of the face looks like- my students are 100% masked except for the odd moment when one of them might take a sip of water and then quickly put it back on again and there is an internal shock of the totally unexpected, as if you have never seen them before. It is deeply visually disturbing. As a lover of human faces – endlessly interesting – it seems to me that destiny or fairness has, on the whole, balanced things out in terms of symmetry or attractiveness though : those with beautiful eyes often have a less beautiful rest of face, and vice versa – the dull or averaged-eyed bloom when the rest of their features are revealed, but how strange to have only our eyes to communicate with. I can barely hear people talking through their masks. Voices are muffled. It is the eyes that say everything)).
Over the full trajectory, there is a very big difference in the way that the virus has transpired here compared to other countries (still very much continuing here, with only 3% fully vaccinated, according to today’s (admittedly tediously relentlessly negative Japan Times). Here it has been more of a continuous, business as normal ‘co-existing with the virus’ than the death drama and horror of the scenes that unfolded worldwide initially and even recently, from New York to London to Mumbai and Mexico City. We never had the images of hospital breakdown in Lombardy, the piled up corpses left in corridors and morgues; the draconian lockdown measures – in my company of around 780 employees, it was only I who insisted on staying home those initial three months from March once things started getting more drastic and the rest of the country were mainly staying in on government recommendations. Only me. Otherwise, it has been business as usual. A continuous, dragging, numbing, unbreathable molasses. With about 14,000 deaths in the meantime.
Most people reading this will have spent the majority of the last twelve to fifteen months either in isolation, or at least in very reduced mode, at home, doing everything by Zoom, the necessities bare minimum. Which I know has come with its own difficulties. My brother and sister were unemployed for a year, with stressful financial situations; the other main problem being how to fill up the day. Boredom. Repetition. Walking the empty streets. I know that in my own case, being furloughed for a year and having the space to just write and be ‘free’ would have been vastly less stressful than what I have had to put up with ie: always being in the full pack of it like sardines, the exasperation I have felt in so many situations; all I want and have wanted is just to be away from it all and at home because in truth, I don’t really get bored. If I could have been paid to stay at home here for a year, despite the odd moment of feeling a bit fed up maybe, especially on rainy days, it would, in all honesty, have essentially been bliss.
You in the UK, the US, Canada, Europe, have had the far more difficult and dramatic, wrenching chapters: the daily death tolls, the latest control measures; the Orwellian rules. The anti-vaxxers campaigning in the streets. The feral and beast-like, ripping their masks off in Trumpian rage against the infringements on their freedoms. The ravers, unwilling to stop the dance. The cretinous, convinced it is all a hoax. Just so many assholes marauding and rampaging and infecting each other, killing hundreds of thousands; it must have been traumatic, tumultuous – absolutely horrible. And I don’t envy any of that, nor the higher death tolls.
But then you have had the prophetic contrast and hope of the vaccinations. Your situation has been harder, but more Hollywoodesque. The sirens, the closed off streets. The denials. The proclamations. The fear of the spreading. But then the rapid turnaround with the vaccinations, the case numbers dropping, the joyous rushing into the crowded baseball stadiums, the ballooning economic confidence. The return to normality, or a semblance of it. Here, it would make a movie that was dull as hell. A stagnant pond of slow-flowing commuters, students, mothers shopping. The obedient populace, trudging along in masks (until they take them off to go inside to crowded cafes and talk to their friends at close range; just one of a million illogical exasperations that caused a kind of psychological polio for me: fifteen months of continuous low level fury). Compliance does not necessarily equate to rational intelligence. With mass obedience comes stupidity.
The experience in Japan has re-revealed both some of the good and the bad points of the culture. Which is certainly true for all other countries and their responses as well. The massive death tolls in the US and the UK, in my view, are an indictment of whole ideologies. In Brazil and India too, perfect text book examples of the damage that one narcissistic megalomaniac can inflict on an entire country. Here, there are no prime time players. No one saying the virus is ‘just a little cold’ or ‘it will disappear by April’. No one deliberately shaking hands to prove their message that the virus is ‘nothing to worry about’. Etc Etc etc. No one has even denied the severity of the situation here, even while doing virtually nothing about it. The good points here, in contrast: a determined, civil, sense of national co-operation. A spirit of patient endurance for the greater good. On the whole, anyway (restaurants and bars are bucking more and more now against the government’s recommendations to close early – because of the post-war constitution, legally binding edicts are not actually possible, you can feel a ‘we’ve had enough of this and need our incomes back ‘ tension slowly bursting under the ‘national state of emergency’ (don’t make me laugh; all this has meant in reality is closing shops and restaurants a little bit earlier, wow; how effective! )), but generally speaking, we have been as compliant as people possibly could be. Masked. Absolutely. Social distancing has not happened, though, especially not where I work – you have no idea, no idea what it has been like in that regard; continuous, low level fear as people physically brush or squeeze past you, breathing in your face, but that could also apply to the trains and buses as well; on a daily basis; never has my claustrophobic nature been more challenged; the fear of being infected constant seeing that the government is too cautious and useless to get us all vaccinated: a response that has been pathetic. Even with the knowledge that the biggest sporting event in the world is on its way, they were unable to sort out the logistics. Japan, FFS. There is so much you have to repress just to get through each day: 500 school children killed themselves last year, the highest number since 1978; mental health generally is pretty poor despite the brave face people put on at the start of work every time to support the general sense of social harmony; a majority are completely against holding the Olympics, which essentially are a business proposition that will cost too much in terms of broadcasting rights and sponsorship deals if cancelled, meaning that the powers that be, with their poor surveillance rights and coronatracking potential, are going to let 78,000 people into the country, with god knows how many undetectable variants, willing to let a potential superspreader event happen, ie. put their own people in genuine danger, rather than call it off. Japanese people on the whole are usually hesitant to express political opinions, but I have noticed how many students, teachers, and anyone else you talk to, have quite a glistening look of hatred in their eyes when the subject comes up and they are asked about it directly. I think people are furious.
So yes, we have just been ‘getting on with it’. For fifteen months straight. With seemingly almost no progress in sight. Vaccinations are starting, sites are being set up, old people are getting inoculated; I had a glimmer of hope the other day when I saw that companies were going to start vaccinating their employees on site, but saw that this rule applied only to those with over 1,000 employees. And would my company actually do that willingly anyway? I asked the teachers in my ‘teachers’ conversation class’. They looked doubtful. Samurai stamina, probably. Work your way through it; get your head down. And I doubt we would get the day off in case of side effects either (they agreed). ‘Fight through’. A fatalistic sense of ‘if my time comes, my time comes’ (a vacuous suicidality that makes me physically sick). When I get in on Tuesday mornings, in the school I am based in this year where there are windows I can open (last year…..I can’t even think about it. I am scarred if I let my mind go to those tiny cracks of air I was enduring)……..but what is the most insufferable thing for me is that if I didn’t go around opening the windows, teachers doing training or having meetings wouldn’t do it. They just wouldn’t. They would instead sit proudly in the room with the window closed, even if in their hearts and minds they realized that in all common sense they should have been opened. I know this for a fact. Because if I don’t, they are closed. And this is so guttingly irresponsible. They would literally, honestly, just sit in the room, with the air con on, the door shut, and no ventilation, probably because it makes them look as if they are concentrating on their work, and are thus ‘erai’, or respectable, rather than worrying about a virus that could potentially in the long term be devastating to their overall health for the rest of their lives or even kill them.
It is this, finally, that I will take with me the most when and if this nightmare is finally over. The sheer passivity. The getting onto a crowded commuter train, moist with warm breath, the virus definitely circulating (because we are going to and from Tokyo all day long, where it is concentrated; statistically speaking, this is certain), but in some carriages perfectly openable windows being left shut; dolts sitting like penguins in their masks staring forward, useless as dummies; no one having the wherewithal to open these vital sources of fresh air by themselves, in case they ‘stand out’ (oh you should see the faces when I thrust them open from outside while on the platform, completely abnormal, but something I have been doing throughout, sometimes aggressively, sometimes with just a sigh of oblivious resignation, knowing that I am categorically, 100% right to be doing so – can anyone argue with the logic of this?) No they can’t, which is why when the beleaguered teachers, hot from the sun, sit fanning themselves in the room they are in, won’t shut them either (of course they won’t – here, you just………accept). I was also supposed to accept the fact that when two teachers had come down with the virus (one with no symptoms, but the other suffering pretty badly); afterwards, when they returned, and we were all nervous, they still kept the windows closed in their classrooms (‘because we are not worried! But we sometimes do open them on Fridays when you come, because we know you are concerned about it’! ). This last conversation, I could not accept, not at all, and I can’t tell you how it made me feel; except that I felt like the last sane person in the entire world, and was shot through, throughout my entire bloodstream, with molten mercury.
And then I just opened them.
Smelling crisp and fantastic in my Roger Et Gallet The Vert for work – another gorgeously hot, blue skied day that only I was not complaining about in the morning lessons – I decided, being in full green tea mood – so clean and easeful to the senses – to try another scent of this genre I had spotted in the Fujisawa department store nearby :Due Foglie E Un Bocciolo ( ‘two leaves and a bud’) by Nobile 1942.
With a woozy cardamom and jasmine- indolic opening, soft and sensual but not quite my cup of tea, this reminds me slightly of Armani Prive’s Eclat De Jasmin but with a more afternoonish, green tea thrust. I don’t mind having a bit in the back of my hand on the way to my next destination, but for unassuming Fujisawa – the dull and uninspiring Olympic flags have just gone up for the sailing events taking place here : when you see Enoshima island on TV you can think of me, somewhere nearby ….. I definitely prefer my fresh spicy, bracing Roger Et Gallet.
I cannot live without Roger Et Gallet’s Green Tea.
And yet I cannot recommend it to you.
THE NEGATIVES ;
- A rasping, chemical, typical quality, redolent of men’s sport scents like Chrome by Azzaro ( which I like and used to wear).
- A possibly headache inducing quality.
- I can’t detect the alleged grapefruit, yuzu and mandarin.
- it is not especially elegant.
- I love it.
- The green tea note durates beautifully on freshly laundered shirts.
- When the weather suddenly soars and enters hot summer, as it has these last two days, I NEED this for work, for odorous confidence ( Japanese people seem to like it on me even if Duncan doesn’t ).
It has a lovely, floral, classically ‘green tea’ drydown that subtly hangs about my person, dissolving some fat, which is why you could find me today, rushing panickedly from Yokohama Lumine department store, where there used to be a Roger & Gallet concession, to the Sogo department store, where they moved)
- It is kind of cheap.
( Sunday night )
I keep my worlds separate. My school life is in many ways a galaxy away from my private life. There is a stark division: it feels water tight. Probably, everyone is similar in this way, keeping things distinct – especially in Japan, where no one asks questions, and privacy is respected to a degree that for a westerner can feel verging on disinterest: you say hello and goodbye; exchange pleasantries, have buoyant conversations in the workplace with those you get along with, but politics, religion, controversy – ie. many topics in the news, anything that might create disagreement, are taboo. You simply don’t rock the boat. To keep a nice atmosphere for everyone present is the ultimate concern (and there is a lot to be said for this: it is like entering a well managed aquarium that you can float in, unrocked, stable, if sometimes stagnant – rather than the churning waters of sparring egos, the clash of the aggressively opinionated sharks and killer whales and the angered ‘office politics’ of the western work place where cortisone is rocketed by incompatible adversaries digging into each other by the laminator). Thus; prying into someone’s personal affairs in Japan is considered anathema to the individual – you simply don’t ask if someone is married or if they are in a relationship, whether they have children etc etc unless you know them well (complete candour is between friends after work over drinks where nothing is secret); otherwise, the rule is simply : keep things light and friendly. Although my effusive and furious passions often seep through my pores despite my greatest efforts to contain them, especially with the younger adolescents I teach, I am possibly nothing more than a middle age, gammy-legged cipher. ‘Mr Chapman’.
Which is why it was strange the other day when at the beginning of a lesson and I asked a question about what was new, how they were, how the school day had gone, one boy said ‘I just heard you published a book on perfume and were in a magazine’. For a second I was flummoxed. I choked, slightly, on my words and couldn’t quite get out my next sentence. What? They know nothing of all that: I think they imagine rather that I am a quaint bachelor who lives alone with his cat and reads nineteenth century English literature at the weekends, cooking beef stew and picking fluff off my arran cardigans. Practicing Johann Sebastian Bach. A stiff. Which is ok. I am fine with however they see me, as I am not the important point in the equation, and I like being slightly enigmatic. But although the Black Narcissus is a very minor website in the scheme of things, with the book out, and mentions in various places, I am also not anonymous: and a brief click on the vast lagoon of words and images that exists within these ‘pages’ will reveal all kinds of frenzies; from ‘foul-mouthed’ political rants and foolish perfumed whimsies, to the Tokyo underworld and the making of horror movies and the shenanigans of D Whom and Burning Bush. I don’t want my worlds to bleed. Japanese schools have ‘morality clauses’ – your behaviour outside work must be exemplary ; teachers in my school are contractually forbidden to write books, never mind do naked butoh or crawl around the undergrowth in the local forest as a gothic spirit animal; essentially, once committed to the organization you belong to it; it becomes your life, and that is all, though as a semi-part time foreigner who nobody can control (I know they have given up trying – I exemplify the phrase ‘a world unto himself’) all of this probably has no bearing on me. I am detached; a one man show. After all, if you are not Japanese, you will forever be an outsider (which is probably why we settled here in the first place: we actively chose to live on the dreamy edges, undisturbed).
But ‘perfume’? It almost sounded like a dirty word in the context of a scuzzy cram school classroom – an outlier from another realm. Poncey, a bit gay. Glamorous. Inconceivable with my image. And in fact, when I took the issue of Vogue into school – because I just couldn’t resist it or stop myself I was so excited – the teacher oddball who sits next to me claimed that it could only be a case of a person with the same name; a doppelganger; surely it couldn’t be me, the man with the messiest desk in the whole company, in his tired, baggy suits (although I do have some great vintage Leonard Paris ties); until he saw the bio info about Kamakura and saw it was all true. The teachers were flabbergasted; it created quite a commotion, for a few minutes at least, even if, being so incongruous with the surroundings, I did feel that it pushed me even further into my own alien zone of the untouchable – both in the positive and negative connotation. I had not expected, though, that Mr G would then go and blurt out this information to the students in the corridor as they came into the school, making their way to the small room in which we were sitting. I felt slightly violated; as if some unassailable vow had been broken; that something was about to be let in.
Oh god, I thought. Here we go. The beginning of the end. What’s going to happen now. Though I can’t deny a part of me was also electrified. Ultimately, I like honesty, expression, real connection. And so thinking for a second, I then thought to myself, oh fuck it. The previous week’s lesson had been a misery. I had been too lazy to come up with something interesting, and so had instead just done a high level listening and speaking test from the TOEFL examination – internationally recognized, pedagogically useful (I always bear in mind that the parents are paying for these lessons – there has to be something educationally worthwhile in each one), but at the same time, with the students being of different ages – and it being Friday night; the atmosphere has yet to gel this term, it was a po-faced, tedious disaster; it is the rainy season; they are exhausted from their punishing schedules and just want to have some fun (sometimes I just can’t escape from myself when I am tired and have a million other things on my mind – to make a lesson work, you have to crack yourself open like a raw egg and flow into the air around you; fill the room with compassion, empathy and love like a guru to pierce the defence barriers and let the kids relax and interact freely with each other; you are the fluid; otherwise they are just tight, nervous containers with dour demeanours slumped sulkily on their desks itching to get back home and have a moment’s respite with a Friday night anime or TV drama or manga on the sofa.
‘Would you like to see the book? And the article in the magazine?’ I asked them. Nods all round. The feeling between the six of them was already warming up – like scandalized but excited co-conspirators who could sense something brewing. What I had been planning initially had to go out the window- a curious article I had found from The Japan Times last week about a shinkansen bullet train driver who left the cockpit for three minutes to go to the toilet, leaving the train with 125 passengers on board travelling at 150kph along the automated tracks because of abdominal pain, deciding to take this risk rather than make the train late. A train hurtling along the tracks without a driver. Punctuality prioritized over human life. A mindset I thought was worth their criticism and consideration. And we did come back to that later – somehow the topic of how late or early you are in general (I taught them the expression ‘arrive on the dot’, which is my own modus operandi – I like to arrive precisely at the appointed hour, with a slight sense of giri-giri – am I going to make it?). Still, at the beginning of the lesson I reluctantly felt like there was no going back : I returned to the teachers’ room, blushing slightly to myself, retrieving my book and Vogue Japan from my bag – my fault entirely for being vainglorious enough to need the attention and validation of the teachers rather than just keeping it all neatly to myself in the first place – but I am only human after all, and both things are cool, let’s face it: I then came back, a little gingerly, to the expectantly expanding classroom – and passed both round.
‘Is this you?’ said one sassy twelve year old girl, a K-pop fan with attitude who has a promising vigour to her, scrutinizing my flattering photo. ‘Are you married? It says here you live with your partner?’ Thanks a lot, Mr G, I thought to myself – why the hell did you have to tell them about this – ‘
No, I am not’ I said, leaving it open-ended. ‘Wow, I love the black and gold’, said one boy – who could be reading this, for all I know, now that everything is out in the open. ‘I am really impressed by your knowledge’ said another. K-pop was sniffing the pages. ‘Does it stink?’ I asked, fully aware that this edition of the book has been sitting in my incense-filled kitchen for months, and that I once poured vetiver oil down the spine one evening, spraying some Comme Des Garcons II on some of the pages as well for good measure. I can no longer smell anything on it, but she seemed transfixed; taking off her mask and taking long inhalations. ‘No. It smells really good’.
Was I igniting something? I don’t know. At the very least, they were looking at me differently. The feeling in the room had changed completely. Perhaps by finally being more open myself and exposing an entirely different aspect of my life to them, there was a new found clarity.
( There is no Doors content in this piece, by the way. Just the title of that song, Break On Through, which D loves to sing at karaoke, raucously, drunkenly when in excited mode (those were the days….it will be great to go to karaoke again, if we are ever safe here to do so); I love listening to the shimmering keyboards of Riders On The Storm in the rain; it fuses with the sky. And I have a wonderful memory, ten years ago, or so, in Berlin, when D’s parents came to the apartment we had just bought in Schoneberg, one sparklingly bright and cold December’s day, in the snow; after a trip to IKEA, where we had bought a bed – impossible to assemble; and being the more practical types, D and his mum got to work reading the instructions and piecing it together piece by labyrinthine piece; his dad just relaxed and looked on; and my job was cracking open bottles of champagne, and entertaining everyone by dancing around wildly to the Doors Greatest Hits ).