THE SLEEPOVER

I was reading an article this morning by a journalist rhapsodizing about the summer, all the things he had done; all the places he had been, cross-country; feeling so liberated; how people he knew everywhere went crazy for travel, to catch up on everything they had been missing, to go places, see friends, socialize, hang out in bars, restaurants, attend concerts and the theatre pre-Delta and then during, despite the headlines about fatalities and hospitals filling up in the UK and in America and elsewhere: an explosion of need after being curtailed and unable to live as we do usually.

D and I were, though oppressed as everyone has been, quite the opposite. We didn’t want to go anywhere. Not realistically being able to go back to England: Japan is a ‘red country’, meaning hotel quarantines (at your own expense) in London; returning here would be the same, all under strict guard and control – it all feel at the instinctive level like some nightamareish ‘tourist’ equivalent of Guantanamo Bay. All travel thus held zero appeal: even the idea of physically getting on a plane, of sitting in an airport, seems inconceivable. Likewise long train journeys. We simply had no desire to go anywhere except in the near vicinity, and this despite double vaccination. Is this to be expected? Is it abnormal? Have you felt similarly? Is this reticence and caution a form of cowardice, collective PTSD, or is it just a normal reaction after a year and a half of having to travel on cramped trains and buses and in confined classrooms constantly under threat of potentially catching the virus? Have we been overreacting? Are we turning into hermits?

The first ten days at home after the end of term, I do think I went into some kind of summer hibernation or withdrawal, as I described previously in another post. I think I really needed it. After that, though, we started to venture out on walks nearby, discovering temples we had never known existed before, places I had seen on the bus route and always had some curiosity about but never actually made the effort to go and look; backlots and side streets; deserted spaces.

We even had a sleepover at our own house. Moved one futon into the small guest room with its narrow bed; one on the floor, like kids, and stayed there for about ten days watching films or reading books with the cat (who seemed to enjoy the ‘new stimulations’ as well). It was funny how it was actually like having a holiday within your own house: waking up each day not in your usual environment – a ‘home away from home’. Like staying at your friend’s; waking up to the unfamiliar. After coffee and breakfast we would then just play it by ear; either just wander down another unexplored path, or stay in.

One evening we were invited to go to the house of some old friends’ for dinner. What would be a usual turn of events – socializing, drinking, talking and eating together – seemed initially strangely daunting. D didn’t even want to go at first – I had to persuade him. Having been in his own funk for a month or longer from July, during which time he turned off all notifications and closed down his emotions, I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. Was it going to be awkward? And when we arrived at their house in south Yokohama, overlooking the sea, at first things, just momentarily, did feel a little stilted, as though none of us quite knew what to do. I even felt that our hosts were a little neurologically odd in their movements, initially; a bit jerky, dusty, as if they had been taken out of storage: our eye contact was off at first: I felt a bit heartbeaty.

After some wine, and just the pleasure in each other’s company though, (plus an absurdly delicious homemade chicken pie), and the fact that we had after all just recently had our second vaccinations, we all calmed down a lot and the time went very quickly and enjoyably. The conversation was great. I felt less contained. It was like being unsutured. We just caught the last train, hugging Justin goodbye – having said goodbye to Setsuko back at their apartment with her new rescue cat; D had a very big spontaneous constant grin on the way home, physically looser – I felt the same. It was lovely. For a long time, aside a couple of times going out with some of my Japanese colleagues after work for cans on the park bench, and one or two quick lunches with people, again outside, this was, I think, the first proper socializing we had done in a year and a half, and it felt oddly momentous. You do forget that you are a social creature, that humans are social beings; I suppose when the possibilities of interaction are reduced, as they of course have been, you just adapt. But sometimes you don’t even realize yourself what is happening to you; there can be a normalization within yourself of new states of being that are ultimately perhaps not in your best psychological interest.

Sometimes you also realize that you have been living in a place for many years and not noticed things you should have. You have just walked past them. Like this exquisite cafe, for example. A former villa turned restaurant (it was apparently very famous for its beef stew of forty years until last year), the current corona restricted cafe was still a place of utter serenity and calm; the lemon cheese cake and crème caramel we had completely out of this world.

How could we have missed this place? It has been waiting for us, all this time. Just off the main road to the temple of Kenchoji. Next time someone comes to visit, or I need a private, quiet tete a tete with a friend, this retreat is where we will be headed. We both felt deeply tranquil there – it was a a beautiful oasis of peace.

Another discovery we made by chance just from walking around was a 1930’s cafe, hidden behind a building in Ofuna – next to Kamakura – famous for its pickled mackerel bento boxes and boiled ham. Although it was a bit odd having sushi for breakfast with coffee – D was more adventurous, going for the full chirashizushi; I could only (barely) bear the much easier to eat roll version- with the out of place Hawaiian music going on in the background, and the giggling not-used-to-foreigners adult waitresses, it was quite a novel, and amusing, experience.

It was nice not having an agenda this summer; no fixed itinerary, as you sometimes ironically do when you are on vacation : stumbling upon these new old places. Probably if we had gone away somewhere, to another country, they would have remained undiscovered. It is good to go deeper into the local topography – climb some stairs, here, go down this lane : I felt we had penetrated further into our own living space.

The weeks went past. Then, having spent most of the summer holiday close to home, just in Kamakura, one day we woke up and decided on having a proper day out.

Going north up to the centre of Yokohama has little appeal right now – it is one of the current delta epicentres – and we have both agreed that for the time being, Tokyo is completely out of the question : it is simply impossible to avoid being in close contact with large numbers of people there and the medical situation is getting out of control. Instead, and I don’t for the life of me know why we haven’t done this more often, seeing that they are pretty much equidistant, we decided to take a train just 20 minutes south, to the curiously old fashioned but less densely crowded US naval base city of Yokosuka.

I must say, that having been spending so much time in the zen capital we call home, Yokosuka truly did feel like going on an exotic vacation. We went there once, many years ago, and I remember being in some trap club thinking where am I? The streets were full of Americans in uniform and the dressed up locals sometimes giving them the eye; every other premises a burger place or tacos bar or pool club – it is so different in terms of energy I don’t know how it had possibly faded from our minds.

Yokosuka is a very intriguing place. Run down, as you can see; old fashioned in a way, but very vibrant. Ethnically diverse – you see soldiers in full uniform about three times as big as the regular population walking around, kids on skateboards, old Japanese grannies – fascinating eateries – we had an excellent Peruvian lunch and want to go back for the Colombian and Vietnamese, difficult to get in Kamakura or Yokohama. Not to mention the burgers. I need to try one.

It was fascinating. A very hot day, I almost felt eventually overwhelmed by it and all the sensory stimulation, so we sat in the seaside park,looking out at the shipyard, at sunset, the sound of the military trumpet calls as evening fell; navy personel out for their evening jogs; old men sat looking out over the water: Japanese sailors doing manoueuvres aboard a submarine that was docked in the bay. Though only a short distance away, it felt as if we had entered another world. I had assumed it was miles and miles away down the coast, an hour or so- but no; just an easy twenty minute train ride. We loved it. So we have decided we are going to go back there again, the weekend after next, to celebrate Duncan’s 50th birthday. There are hundreds of restaurants to choose from; the alcohol laws (which currently can’t be served in public spaces as a precaution against the spread of Covid because customers let down their guard too much) are being repealed this week as no one can stand it any longer and all the bar owners and restauranteurs are going crazy; there are so many beckoning alleyways to look down – so many compelling neon corners: coffee houses, import shops; it is a a whole new playground. I can’t wait. Let’s just hope that in the process of having fun, we don’t overdo things and wake up with tattoos.

21 Comments

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21 responses to “THE SLEEPOVER

  1. Filomena

    Sometimes, I am at a loss for words, and sometimes your words are sufficient. Thank you for your “words” which usually say it all.

    • What a nice thing to say.

      This was a possibly slightly bizarre post (what’s new?!) but I had to share it. I hope you are doing ok. In my case, even though the whole virus crapola is still raging, I feel as if I have personally broken through something – a membrane of sorts.

      Having said that, I’ll probably be ranting and exploding like a volcano come next week (or tomorrow). Who knows. It has been an extraordinarily taxing time, which is why I wanted to share the good moments as well. The simple pleasures etc x

  2. HelenLG

    Oh I so enjoyed this: your words, and pictures, thank you.

  3. Robin

    Neil,
    I really enjoyed this post. I must say that as an American I was amused at some of the Yokosuka pictures, especially the mural of all the black music artists; some of them were portrayed accurately but the one of Tupac Shakur had him looking like a black version of Lenin. Too funny!

  4. Tara C

    Such a wonderful post. It’s great exploring neglected parts of your own neighbourhood, I loved poking around in Montréal (feeling extremely homesick for it as a matter of fact). And just like a cat, I enjoy rotating my sleeping locations.

    • I am glad I am not the only one – it definitely freshens things up a bit.

      Are you back in California again? I can imagine that Montreal would have lots of curious corners to turn around…….homesickness is a true pang in the heart, but I definitely think of it as a positive feeling, that a place has really got inside of you.

  5. That lemon cheesecake & creme caramel looks definitely worth venturing out for. The restaurants in Japan look amazing. Yokosuka looks a bit dodgy, but I may be having flashbacks to my living near a naval base in San Diego for a year – drunken sailors sleeping in my dorrway were a regular hazard.
    I have not been anywhere except the local supermarket and pharmacy since September 2019. How sad is that? Given the asininity that has taken place in the world since then, I haven’t suffered any FOMO. I did take up feeding (and ferrying to the vet) the local stray dog population, yippee!

    • What’s FOMO again?

      I can imagine that having lived next to an airbase in San Diego – you would get the jitters seeing the Yokosuka pictures: I think the local government here keeps them all on quite a tight leash though; strict curfews etc: if there is one criminal incident country wide, the whole lot get stuck on the ship and are banned from going out and drinking alcohol etc. For me it is quaint and stimulatingly foreign.

      I can’t believe you haven’t been out for so long. You have done well to maintain your sanity. Very well.

      • FOMO (Fear of missing out) refers to the apprehension that one is either not in the know or missing out on information, events, experiences, or life decisions that could make one’s life better. Those affected by it may not know exactly what they are missing but may still worry that others are having a much better time or doing something better than they are, without them. -Wikipedia
        Methinks FOMO is also age-related, as mine has seems to have decreased to OTMO (Oblivious to missing out).
        Chicken pie sounds delish, think I will try my hand at making one.

      • The chicken pie was unbearably delicious, to the point that I was literally angry with the hostess for not having made more of it.

        FOMO…….. I am glad I don’t suffer from it. I have a million other neuroses already!

  6. Hanamini

    This was a fantastic post, and the photos….gorgeous, all of them. Thank you so much for the views. No, you’re not alone. The fear of travel being like a tourist “trap”, literally, seeing friends feeling neurologically off and unfamiliar, eating out seeming risky and then feeling the concomitant guilt for not being more adventurous are all feelings that have affected me and my family as well (well, perhaps the young adults less), and the fun flip side has been the discovery of new local corners (your phrase was perfect – going deeper into the local topography) fields, alleys, shops (at least from the outside). I so loved the old advertisements, the boiled ham, the perfect peaceful cafe and desserts, and those fantastic photos of a (deserted??) Yokosuka, which I now regret never getting to (but you know as well as I do—when things were normal, why would one?). Please keep writing. That was not only entertaining but also comforting and indeed beautiful. I’m not actually sure I will welcome becoming a fully active consumer/social being again, even if I regain those muscles—it was TOO frantic. Take care of yourselves, and thank you.

    • I should have mentioned that D took the photos : I like having them in tandem with the writing, to try and share my experiences as immediately as possible. I am glad you liked it and love your summations here of similar overall sensations to the ones I was having: I hadn’t thought of it as being guilt for not being more adventurous but you are right: it’s some kind of fear of having become a dullard or something. I think overall with this post though I was trying to portray the fact that even when we have been fraught with stress, from many different layers, and terror as well, you can still truly and thoroughly enjoy yourself in particular dimensions.

  7. Robin

    This was worth waiting for, every last word.

    So that’s what you were up to when you disappeared into radio silence. What a necessarily amazing time you and Duncan had. I relate to everything, everything.

    To me, exploring new places or rediscovering old ones is one of my favourite things in the world. That deep curiosity that comes to the surface feels physically like some kind of dopamine or serotonin or whatever it is, arousing that engaged excitement, heightened senses, being in the moment, alive to the idea there will be more moments of discovery ahead. The little surprises are often the best: the small details, the low-key pleasures. Exciting and relaxing at the same time, tiny thrills, safe and sensual novelties to look at, to eat. The texture of that cheesecake, oh LORD!

    Ric and I traveled for a few days and just got back, so this kind of experience is fresh in our minds. I’m with you on the heavy-duty travel; I can’t stomach the idea right now, for whatever reason. We’re probably quite instinctively cautious right now, given the last year and a half. Yes. Rightly bloody so. We just drove up the coast and took a ferry to the north Sunshine Coast, which has even fewer cases of COVID-19 than we do. Super safe. and unspoiled, uncrowded, absurdly gorgeous. Just what you’d imagine coastal BC to be. The weather was perfect. Hot, sunny. We camped, explored, found a couple of jaw-dropping lakes for swimming, kayaked, walked the forest and seaside trails. With everyone back to school and work, we felt as though we had the outdoor world to ourselves. Novocaine for our slightly shattered souls.

    • How wonderful. I really love lakes. And I am very happy to read what you describe here: I do feel that we are probably all coming through to the other side a bit now; perhaps unclenching finally..

  8. This was an absolutely wonderful post! Sometimes staycations are the best; getting to kknow ones own area in a more personal way is a delight, if one lives somewhere interesting that is.
    I loved the day trip you took, that place looks quite interesting and kind of funky. I wouldn’t mind spending a day there at all.
    We have not been over any friends houses in a very long time, so glad you had a nice evening visiting your friends. Chicken pie and great conversation sounds wonderful.

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