Category Archives: autobiography

HEARTLESS HELEN by PENHALIGONS (2019)

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I had promised myself I wouldn’t write anything today as I am feeling mind-wiped, but seeing this just-out-in-Nippon release in Takashimaya ( a take no prisoners, self confidently fresh and sharp mandarin tuberose neroli that she would never wear in a million years though I might ),  I am simply putting this up to pique the amusement of my best friend Helen – who is anything but heartless

 

 

 

 

 

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– though she can be severe and cut to the core and tell it like it is because she seems to understand me better than possibly anybody else: a soul twin, telepathic understanding that, though we speak far too little ( as we are both lazy and crap ) we know, as long as we remain intact, we will always have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

( the picture above is H giving me a pep talk before my Perfume Lovers London talk of 2014 ….. god how time so quickly flies……)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helen has talked me through many a difficult situation: like my mother (in the earthquake, my operation, both were amazing ) they tell me just the right combination of reality and boost. A hotwire to my sensibility;  fraternal umbilical straight to my fevered, potholed  brain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We are also both hypochondriacs. So god knows how she would feel being here where I am today, in Yokohama,; the biggest China Town in all of Asia, where a cruise ship is quarantined off shore walking distance from where I have lessons with passengers coming down like flies with the coronavirus, and where, as you can see, masks are selling out and there is a very uneasy feel in the air – as there is globally – as people are wondering what to believe, and whether they are over or underreacting; where being on packed trains feels unpleasant and dangerous, and where tempers get frayed —

 

 

 

 

– —- my ragged own, especially ( I had an argument with my closest Japanese male friend on the bus earlier this afternoon. about a common colleague who was espousing theories the other day about only the ‘weak’ being in danger of contracting the virus and being very arrogantly ‘unconcerned’ about the illness –  —- so would that include me, then?  having had very serious pneumonia in my left lung twice before ; I didn’t like the almost Nietzschean Ubermensch implications of what he was saying (and what of the immune stressed sleep deprived students, just before the most important exams of their lives ?); my friend said it was a linguistic misunderstanding: I responded with something below the belt about the man’s appearance…., oh when I get on the defensive I can be very venomous ; bile slips from my tongue with slippered ease.,..  …. never mind Heartless Helen; it is more like Noxious Neil (so should I wear the partner in the set, then  : the devilish and dastardly woody tobacco scent, Terrible Ted? )

 

 

 

 

 

No : I think Helen would suit me much better : we need proud nosegays in these pestilential times; bright flowers (Penhaligons calls this a ‘fearless conquistador’), and everybody knows that I love oranges.  don’t think about it, H would say, rationalize, hone in to the very best perspective; reverse or brake my hysteria  —-   ———- or at the very least, just try and  steer me towards a more pacified lucidity

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THANK F*** I HAVE TWO DAYS OFF

 

 

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February 1, 2020 · 6:38 pm

“PERFUME: IN SEARCH OF YOUR SIGNATURE SCENT” – THE TOKYO STORY, featuring MIZUNARA by PARFUMS SATORI (2018)

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We had an absolutely fantastic day last Thursday. Meeting up with a Japan Times journalist I had got in contact with with a view to doing an article on the sense of smell and the adventure of seeking out your own perfect signature scent, I was able to turn one of my long held dreams into reality: taking a writer on a ‘tour’ of the city (although in the end it was just one tiny swathe of it), and opening their eyes and olfactory senses to hitherto possibly unthought of possibilities in the realm of perfume and then have them turn the spoken words into a newspaper article   – which in fact will be published here in the next couple of weeks.

 

 

I have been reading Kaori Shoji for years (the Japan Times is delivered daily as a package with my beloved New York Times, and she is often a featured writer, particularly for profile pieces, cultural commentary, language lessons, and film reviews). As a bilingual returnee student who spent her formative years in New York but then came back to Japan, I have always felt that Ms Shoji has a sharp awareness of, and fondness for (and unflinching criticism of, where necessary) both ‘East’ and ‘West’; there is a wryness and melancholy sometimes, and yet simultaneously an absolute lust for life and a thirst for stimulation and realness in her writing that I can totally relate to. I instinctively knew she was the person to do the interview.

 

 

 

We met at Harajuku station, where I had carefully scented myself pleasantly (in a thematic of green tea and lemons – it was a REALLY hot day – I couldn’t smell like a powdery, sweating odalisque); and we went to a cafe for iced tea, where I was interviewed , we chatted, and I felt (as she took notes – so glad that it wasn’t a dictaphone, as I would have felt far too self-conscious) that I could say anything – I was on fire; in fact she could hardly get a word in edgeways.

 

 

 

So nice, though, to be in that relaxed space where you meet someone you immediately like and get on with naturally and can just communicate uninhibitedly (and SUCH a stark contrast to my disastrous radio interview I had a few months ago which I may not even have written about on here as it was just so embarrassing: LIVE, in front of two million people in Europe, with an ear infection, a terrible connection, a typhoon outside with multiple echoes, and questions I could hardly hear and were not  connected to what we had agreed on : : “So Neil, how does one go about attracting the opposite sex with the right aftershave….?”

 

 

 

 

Jesus. No – that was a horrorshow that I had rather forget. This, instead, was a meeting of minds. Someone who wears scent on occasion, likes certain smells (hurrah! She loves green tea – my instincts were right!)  but at the same time is not au fait with the goings on of the industry, the wild obsessions of crazed perfumistas, nor fully aware of the fact that this whole realm of decent perfumes exists beyond what we agreed was the sick, poisoned miasma of duty free, which she was surprised to discover we both scorn and loathe in equal measure.

 

 

 

We three – Kaori, myself, and Duncan, after the initial conversation, then went off to my favourite essential shop shop nearby, Seikatsu No Ki (Tree Of Life) as I thought it might be useful to get a primer on the palette- the basic ingredients used in perfumes-  in case she wasn’t familiar with them.  We had already ascertained in prior emails that she loved incense, which I had in mind as a possible direction to go in, but I also wanted to show her just how good pure ingredients can be on their own, putting some raw vetiver oil on my arm that was evocative of all  kinds of reveries connected to a high school boyfriend she had once had; the smell of him after kendo practice……she liked this so much that I can imagine her returning to get some for herself  to wear as a secret perfume.

 

 

 

From here, the sun radiating brilliantly down through the shade of the avenue of zelkova trees, we walked up the Omotesando boulevard to visit the Comme Des Garçons headquarters in Aoyama. For me, Rei Kawakubo’s perfumes and ethos really do represent a vanguard against the moronic platitudes of cheap perfumery: this brand, I feel,  has real integrity ( and I was so delighted to see that none of the formulae seemed to have been messed with, many of which are in my book  – the first chapter in fact begins with the green leafed innocence of Calamus ), and, having learned that Kaori once went to a Catholic school in America I thought ooh, how about some religious guilt ….I wonder how she will react to Avignon (starting in surprise; eyes closed as she inhaled it from her arm…………..oh wow, that is naughty) : it smelled fabulous on her, sexy if standoffish, with the softer incense notes rising up later in contrast with the harshness of the censer; Black Pepper, one of Duncan’s signatures – a ridiculously erotic perfume – also smelled great on her; dressed in black, like all the costumed assistants, who stood back and let us get on with what we needed, this gave Kaori an almost intimidating aura of grave don’t fuck with me that matched her delicate fierceness perfectly. Rejecting Incense Series Kyoto – we both agree that that perfume doesn’t remotely capture the essence of the city in the way that Avignon undoubtedly does; loving and being amused by Rhubarb and Peppermint, I also sprayed on the spicy original Comme Des Garcons scent on myself ,as well as White, which I bought for D as a present a quarter of a century ago on a cold winter’s day in London. It still smelled lovely.

 

 

 

 

Having been photographed outside, and inside,  the Comme Des Garcons store (all sweaty-faced and shiny….I cannot imagine going to a newsstand and seeing my face staring back at me, but anyway), we decided to have a quick look in Prada just along the way as, both being total cinephiles, I wanted to hear her reactions to the overpriced pop and movie collection (Tainted Love, Pink Flamingoes, Marienbad, Purple Rain) just as a contracts to the CdGs, which are actually far better value. Amused, but not sold, as time was running, we hailed a taxi and drove the short distance to Roppongi where I had made a prior appointment at- the quiet haven of scent consultation and Japanese aroma that is Parfums Satori.

 

 

 

 

‘Perfume’ (which the founder and perfumer had several copies of, dotted around the premises, bookmarked for customers) features a selection of fragrances from the Satori range, because I genuinely feel that they do present a completely different face of perfume to the majority of mainstream and niche; subtle but perturbing; dry, emotional, poetic, and I was interested to see how Kaori, as a person of Japanese heritage but American upbringing, would feel about them. Perhaps a little over eager and uncouth in my enthusiasms – I can’t really do the sit quietly and be ultra polite thing, especially when the conversation has been flowing just so damn wonderfully – in the taxi we had been condemning the current racism, chewed the cud on women’s situation in Japan, the film industry and how it works for movie reviewers, I could have talked all day; to then just be expected to sit and wait to be shown everything was impossible (especially because I am just so contained and repressed at work all the time) ; so, more like a puppy just bought on Christmas Day that yaps excitedly and just bounds about the house unfettered I went about the shop, taking liberties and picking up things randomly from the perfumed shelves to show Kaori. Wasanbon? ‘I love the smell of that – it is my favourite sugar’. Try this then. “Oh my god!” Pure pleasure. As was the eponymous Satori, the lovely spiced sandalwood that is at the helm of the collection and which smelled differently, but great, on each one of us (on that day it reminded me a little of Mitsouko).  We marvelled at the extreme oddness of Hana Kiraku, with its fundaments of melon and miso in search of replicating a particular species of magnolia (“Oh my god, this one is making me high”) ; the almost shockingly green, mind-clearer that is Oribe; then Satori-san introduced her latest perfume from last year, Mizunara, in Japanese and English, explaining to us the story of its inspiration: a particular species of oak tree found in the north of Japan, and the whiskey distilleries of Hokkaido, and the particular smell of the clear mountain air over 1,000 feet. By this point, we had all almost fallen into a dream-like state: one of those curious situations where you feel the membranes and boundaries between people have dissolved and you are existing in the same fluid, the same space :where you imagine that you are seeing the same imaginings and feeling the same sensations. Although too masculine for me to wear on skin, with its base of whiskey and woods and its crisp green top notes of rosemary, clary sage, galbanum and juniper, there is nevertheless a very natural, elegant expansiveness to this scent – it has space within itself – the smell of nature – that sent us all into an afternoon reverie. By the time we all left, and Kaori said she had to go, I felt as if I were floating on a cloud.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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– me pictured with the perfumer Satori Osawa next to her perfume organ.

 

(You can tell how much I like having my picture taken)

 

 

 

 

What a great day though!

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Filed under autobiography, Green, Masculines, Oakmoss, Woods

DISASTER AT THE AIRPORT & THE FIRST REVIEW OF MY BOOK

 

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The journey back to England began horrendously.

 

 

 

We were safely at the airport, on time, and I went through customs. And Duncan was taking a long time. Much longer than he should have been taking, when you usually go straight through. I waited. What was going on? Had he suddenly been taken ill? There is  a history of fainting. But he had been fine, both of us were, really excited to be coming back to England for a bit for my designated five minutes of fame and I couldn’t quite imagine that that was the case. Something was delaying him.I considered looking at the Chanel concession, but the thought bore me to death. I looked to see what other Duty Free there was, but why was he taking so long. And the clock was ticking, boarding was becoming an imminent necessity. And still he hadn’t passed immigration. But with all the officers and plexiglass and barriers you can’t go back, obviously, and I couldn’t see what was happening. But finally, when I went to the far right, the ingress for the officials, and,  there he was…….

 

 

 

 

 

 

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HIS VISA HAD RUN OUT – HE HAD FORGOTTEN TO CHECK, AND HE COULDN’T FLY. `

 

 

 

 

The red no entry sign. The not being able to talk to each other or kiss or hug goodbye – we were like Pyramus and Thisbe, whispering through walls. I was utterly gutted and speechless. And no idea what to do. And I decided to continue, because the tickets are so expensive from Japan – fixed at vastly elevated prices – and I have radio interviews; a big launch party and a family gathering yesterday evening to celebrate (fantastic – a really lovely evening), but I had no choice but to get onto the miserable plane alone, crying cheap tears watching A Star Is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody, and then gradually , slowly, as all the booze sunk in, drawn in and mesmerized by the real cinema of First Man and the first flight to the moon, which allowed me, for a while, to finally forget the empty seat next to me and endure the sleepless 12 hour journey to Paris, where I smelled the vile chemical miasmas of all the disgusting perfumes on offer and felt nauseous at how foul contemporary perfume is;  got on a plane to Birmingham but had a panic attack becauseI didn’t have an aisle seat as requested; then switched and sat next to a man I started talking to – a Pakistani hypnotherapist from Leicester who was amazingly interesting and who absorbed some of my pent up stress; and we talked about the meaning of life; our hatred of the strictures of nationality, and agreed that all culture is a strait jacket and that ultimately, all we really care about is being free.  Fascinating. And I finally got my suitcase, which took so long…..met my parents waiting for me at arrivals, who hugged and commiserated me on the lack of D and arrived home utterly zonked, stinking,  and exhausted and unable to even properly utter any sentences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

D, back in Japan going through the bureaucratic motions, is going to do his darnedest to get the visa sorted out and pay for another flight as I NEED HIM HERE. This is my time: the book comes out next week, I am going to be in Japan Vogue (!!!!!!!!!!), on BBC London Radio (!), the devastatingly trendy Monocle Radio (what to wear?!) as well as Talk Radio Europe, with a potential listening audience of two million people, a fact that I find incomprehensible, especially considering that I stutter and garble and will just sound like a gibbering idiot probably and will just have had breakfast at Duncan’s parents’ house – IF HE GETS HERE- and

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway I just felt I needed to share some of that in an update. It was a hideous journey out. But I must say that it was s a marvellous antidote, the next day to discover that  the lovely Persolaise, who received an advance copy of my book a few weeks ago, had reviewed it on his website : the timing couldn’t have been better for me – and what a lovely balm to my mangled nerves.

 

 

 

Here is the review:

 

 

 

 

 

http://persolaise.blogspot.com/2019/03/persolaise-review-perfume-in-search-of.html

 

 

 

 

 

I couldn’t be more pleased with what he says about it. Being fully aware of its flaws and lacks – he mentions that I forgot to include scents such as Habit Rouge (and how could I have forgotten Geoffrey Beene’s Green Flannel  in either the violet or green chapter?) something I realised after the fact – it was a MAELSTROM of stress and deadlines last summer and I honestly almost lost my mind at one point, there are so many omissions and things that got lost in the mania of the final edit…..and I suppose as the writer of  the thing I sometimes forget that there might be good things about the book as well: it was lovely, and very gratifying, therefore, to have someone else’s reaction to the thing after being stuck so much in my own head, someone who knows more than I do about perfume and is a great writer himself. I am delighted.

 

 

 

 

 

We had a wonderful family party last night, with my aunt, uncle, cousins and second cousins, animated and hilarious, like the parties of my childhood, and a moving champagne toast by my dad, and I feel quite exhilarated about the coming two weeks here – I just have to seize the moment. The sun is out, even if it was just sleeting as well for a few minutes (the weather here is insane), and I feel very much here, and present, and in the moment. Quite happy.

 

 

 

 

 

I really could have done without the drama at immigration though.

 

 

I felt sick to the pit of my stomach.

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Filed under autobiography, Flowers, neurotic meltdowns, PERFUME: IN SEARCH OF YOUR SIGNATURE SCEN, Psychodrama

PERFUME & PERFORMANCE: : : : CARNIVAL AQUARIA, BURNING BUSH AND THE STRANGE WORLD OF PAUL SCHUTZE: : : : BEHIND THE RAIN, CIREBON + TEARS OF EROS (2016)

 

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I am something of a voluptuary. Or at the very least an indulgent, sensualist aesthete, pretentious as that must sound. A Dionysus with a healthy helping of Apollo, I like to swim in my senses until I reach the other side.

 

 

 

 

Sometimes there is a schism, though, a disturbance………the sheer difference between my ‘different worlds’ quite  uncanny.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take Saturday. I had just finished the final pre-examination classes, an entire day of teaching,  and was exhausted, run down, drab in my salaryman Japanese black suit and coat, I just wanted to eat, grab a taxi, and go back home to bed. Sunday, I hoped to just slob in the house and do nothing, hoping there was nothing that had been artfully arranged by Duncan on the social calendar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was. Carnival Aquaria, an event that he had been asked to help out at by the mysterious Mistress Maya, somewhere miles away in the north of Tokyo, which would involve trains, a hotel, a costume….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A dilemma, then. What to do? Stay at home passively, tired, absorbing Netflix and calories, or thrust myself, against my ‘instincts’, into an unfamiliar zone, with new people, even when totally not feeling up to it? Spend the day alone wondering what would be going on there while I was not ( but snug, and warm in my comforts), or be active and sociable, and just let myself get taken up by the unknown, the flux and the flow?

 

 

 

 

 

Somewhat unwillingly – initially – and perhaps unsurprisingly, for you reading this I imagine, I opted for the latter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The event, a medley of different performances and a dance night, was held at an art space in Kiba, an area of Tokyo I had never been to before (this is a city that has so many train stops you have always never been to, such a labyrinth: it just takes years and years to get to know properly) and, to my surprise, we ended up spending twelve hours there, in a black box of odd people, injudiciously put on champagne duty (it was only later that I realized that these bottles were being sold at 18,000 yen a pop, almost 200 dollars, and we had been necking it back ourselves and doling out extra second and third classes to the invitees when they were only supposed to be getting a ‘welcome drink’; the owners of the event space were quite horrified I think as they watched their profits going down the (gullets and) the drain, the freaks behind the bottles clad in outlandishly bizarre outfits that had an eye-widening effect on the typically black-wearing art types who entered self-containedly, and reservedly, to watch a ballet trapeze artist, a shakuhachi flute player, bondage rope tying, some cabaret, a Persian santurist, and various other ephemera (see the top two pictures for an idea of what it was like).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s very strange how these things work, however. Such  a PARADOX.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am a person who is resolutely not interested in clothes. I get criticised by friends and family alike for my boringly conventional tastes. I never buy them, just when I absolutely need to, and even then I find it an ordeal. I wear the clothes my mother sends me in the post for my birthday and Christmas. I have two pairs of shoes to my name. I just don’t choose to express myself in that way (I do that through music, perfume and words). I like what I wear – just plain black, blue, sweaters and jeans and straight coats with the odd colourful scarf maybe, and I certainly wouldn’t just wear anything, no no no and I do have some curious, snazzy ties that I like to wear to work to confuse people, but ultimately, as far as I am concerned, life is just too short to be spent continually thinking about I am presenting  myself to the world, to constantly think about clothes. I know they are important and that that is what the world sees of us, but I just can’t be arsed. I find them shallow and think that far too much importance is placed by humanity on thinking about what it is wearing. Arrogantly, perhaps, I think I hopefully have enough aura in an of myself not to need to rely on the codified, predetermined (fashion is actually really boring in many ways) outer strata.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And yet totally contradicting this is how I feel wearing one of Duncan’s creations. Again, I am dressed by other people, as I would never make the effort to go out and look for rags to stitch together for this purpose, but when D, who is a dab hand at picking up things from recycle bins and second hand thrift shops puts something together and I get in the mood, I can find it quite transformative and liberating; Burning Bush, this wild alter ego of mine, a kind of creature that elicits very strong reactions from people who come into contact with it (I feel this is a genderless being, more anima, or spirit animal, which is how people usually take it – I don’t entirely understand it myself, to be honest, I just know there is something magical about it) –  almost a form of performative alchemy and disappearing inside something that I find extremely, extremely, cathartic.

 

 

 

 

 

I was got up in a big powder blue babygro with fox fur trimmings, a knitted balaclava, sea green wig, and a faux-fur eskimo-like hood (someone referred to me later in the evening as a seximo‘ or a Doraemon fever dream was another onethings that had been thrown haphazardly into our bags in the morning , and which had not been fully decided on until they were put on, including the makeup, which was applied in my usual cack-handed way by just dipping my fingers into the oil pots and slapping it on in the dressing room upstairs using a tiny mirror and laughing to myself as I was doing so. As it turned out, the creature that emerged – coming down the stairs to the art space, figures parting for me to make my entrance – was something like a cuddly, and fluffy, Vishnu/Russian iconographic monster with no obvious reference points really but that somehow, I felt, stood proudly on its own. It was just born. It suddenly existed, in and of itself. A new persona. No longer me, and yet even more me (feel free to analyze and comment on this).

 

 

 

 

 

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Perfume. To maximize the fluffiness, in scent terms before leaving the house that morning, the house a bomb site of huge proportions, scouring my perfume cabinets in my bedroom prior to leaving I had settled on Heliotrope by Perfumer H, a meringue like confection of almonds and vanilla that smelled excellent and peevishly innocent sprayed lavishly on all the soft and feathery textures I was dressed up in, plus, for an extra ironic camp factor as I served (and quaffed) the champagne, on the wrists, and the neck, some Elizabeth Taylor Diamonds and Rubies parfum, a big, orchid cherry mother that I have reviewed before and actually think is strangely gorgeous. Although I couldn’t properly smell all these through the strangely waxen perfume of all the stage white smothering my face, I did feel the effect was rather good, augmenting and embellishing the individual I was inhabiting. Projecting me further into the audience. To further the warm effect of his own prawn headdress and burnished bodystocking, the D plumped, fetchingly, for the vintage Shiseido Feminite Du Bois extrait.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later, eventually fired from champagne duty, we were free to just mingle and dance, and I, though the biggest ‘samugari’ (person who feels the cold) in the world, did actually come very close to overheating after a while in my symphony of furs (Duncan was practically naked), to cool down, intermittently I would go outside on the streets, lurking on bridges and terrifying passers by (although this is Japan, and people keep their reactions generally hidden. They just keep their heads down. I went to the convenience store to get some water, and the clerk did her best to act normally).

 

 

 

 

 

I found myself in the Kiba park, in the freezing cold, and felt like something unearthly and fantastic, night time joggers wondering what the hell they were witnessing as I chuckled to myself like an arctic, mythical babooshka, coated in cherries and vanilla, and the clouds above me shone spectrally, full of magnificence.

 

 

 

 

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The next day, hungover in downtown Tokyo, skin like a dried persimmon, eyebags unconcealable in the bright light of morning, drinking oversweeted cafe au laits in old fashioned coffee shops, and after a row in the early morning, things seemed less bonny and phantasmagorical – but still, madcap though these antics may have been, I feel that they definitely, in some way, really punctured through something and I briefly entered immortality; we had danced maniacally with our friends on the dance floor joyously to Divine’s Native Love (there is a video, but I don’t think I should put it up) – – – yes you read that right, I had danced – – – although the legs still aren’t a full capacity this was most definitely possible – – – and somehow, for me, such experiences, while not happening with great regularity, beautifully stop, for a moment, this conveyor belt we call life with its inexorable conclusions and let you enter pure spirit, not that you need a bizarre costume to have such clarity and mindfulness, but for a person whose life is so not dominated by the clothes that he wears, being changed unrecognisably by the outer appearance and having the reactions that this characters almost always engenders ( I have had the coolest imaginable lesbians coming on to me in Tokyo clubs, been chatted up by all kinds of people that wouldn’t even look at me in my usual incarnation) is very……. interesting, and though this is not something that I want all the time – Burning Bush makes around five appearances a year – I think of this spirit animal, this other being, as a breather; a temporary escape, even a form of savage – and quite primal – performance art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the subject of art, and of artists, more and more of whom I seem to be meeting and possibly collaborating with these days, it isn’t often that a visual artist – people who are often so fully immersed in their field that they forget that they even have other senses – indulges in niche perfumery and comes up with their own scent collection, created entirely by themselves. It is easy to become quite skeptical about this (especially when there are so many Firmenich ghost perfumers), as it can seem to me sometimes that niche perfumery has become increasingly about having the means – ie. the money, to have a ‘start up’ and ‘venture’ and put out a ‘collection’ created by other people with all the usual blather about ‘precious essences’ and the like, when in fact a whole lot of it is derivative nonsense without a great deal of substance or depth or even olfactory interest. I have received whole boxes of releases from various niche companies that I haven’t even reviewed on The Black Narcissus simply because I couldn’t come up with any words, really, to fill a paragraph. They just smelled thin and boring or were dressed up with words and images that far superseded, in interest terms, whatever the liquid inside the tube was meant to convey. Last week, after meeting my friend Yoko and doing piano duet practice at a rented Yamaha hall for our one-day-we-will-actually-do-it concert (which we are planning to have a whole film made for by the end of the year by my extremely talented filmmaker friend Michael Judd, starring Burning Bush and Yoko – we will perform in black beneath it, like the great days of Silent Cinema) I actually gave her a whole bag of cast offs that I didn’t want any more and which I might do some cursory reviews of here in order, if nothing more, to try and remain relevant and contemporary), things like Feather Supreme, by Jusbox, and the Dear Rose collection, by a fashion doyenne and her rock star daughter (or was it the other way round?), and some quite nice Roja Doves, and some sweet oudhy thing by Ex Nihilo, those kind of scents, and she was extremely pleased with them but wondered if I had anything green, as the spring is on its way – I have just heard the uguisu, the Japanese nightingale, outside on this cold sunny day, or at least I thought it was that bird, a beautiful harbinger at any rate, and I was thinking of giving to her the II by Cire Trudon that I reviewed the other day, a delightful sharp green perfume that I am sure that she would like, and then also, now, having given them a second chance last night, I might give to her the Paul Schutzes as well as I have realised that there is something quite interesting about them (god that was rather a long paragraph, sorry).

 

 

 

 

Not that I wouldn’t quite like to keep this set of quiet, diffident, very urban and urbane perfumes in my permanent collection for a sense of variety from my usual, more luscious, affairs, because I kind of would, but because I do actually like the idea of someone else wearing them far more effectively than I ever could. Plus, I love girls, and women, in unconventional sharp, woody – masculine if you like-  perfumes : I love the internal play, and the effect that they have on me, the revelatory layers that can be conjured up with just a spritz of an unanticipated scent on a female acquaintance (or for that matter, a stranger): when quiet depths are suggested; sylvan pools, when my monster skin just eats it all up and amplifies and crushes all subtlety (which is why my signature, Chanel No 19 vintage parfum, is so brilliant on me, an entirely different perfume  – a sexual, vetiver leather iris but still with that elegance and greenness, a place I can hide………)

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Schutze, an Australian multi media artist who works with installations, photography, and ambient composition, is a name I was already familiar with  as one of his pieces, Rivers Of Mercury, is on a quite brilliant compilation I once bought many years ago called Oceans of Sound, compiled and curated by musicographer David Toop, a melange of all kinds of ephemera you would never think of usually putting together, like Debussy and The Velvet Underground, Miles Davis and Erik Satie, but which all works quite brilliantly in a dreamy combobulation of exotic atmospherica, including the sound of water in a Kyoto temple, Suikinbutsu – so I was quite curious when his latest venture – perfume – arrived in a box with his name on it sent in the post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dismissing the trio of scents initially as being what Duncan calls – of that ilk – your typical sharp incense niche contemporary style – in fact to me these smelled even more rasping and aqueous than usual (if they were the artists’ materials themselves; dark room chemicals, solvents for paint brushes, they would have made more sense to me),  but still there was something that  emphatically quiet and strangely thoughtful, and in keeping with the artist’s longstanding resume in the art world, those scents that you think you ought to come back to at a later date because they definitely contain something ) –  last night, the frivolities and almost sensorially overwhelming visuals and smells of Sunday night’s extravaganza still vivid but fading in my mind as I made pasta and we had a very early night, just before hitting the sack I decided to try them out one more time.

 

 

 

 

 

My nose was in a different frame of mind, on this occasion, to the last time I smelled these, and they definitely opened up for me more. Behind The Rain, a damp, and very green, vetiver laced with lentisque, mastic, fir and fennel, and a frankincense heart, is a introverted but moody and brooding scent that I can actually almost imagine wearing myself if I found myself in the right clarity-seeking frame of mind, with hints of an old limited box collection I had by L’Artisan Parfumeur called Sautes D’Humeur, or Mood Swings, containing two very original and before their time perfumes, D’Humeur Jalousie – probably the greenest perfume I have ever smelled, and D’Humeur A Rien, an annihilatingly depressing church-like/ terpsichor – the smell of the asphalt after the rain – that put a smudge of grey death on even the most cheerful of days, and was thus locked away, for a long time, only brought out for amusement purposes, for entertainment, upstairs, at dinner parties.

 

 

 

 

 

Behind The Rain, my favourite of the three that I received, is more nuanced than either of these old Artisans, more contained (you feel a definite ego at work in these perfumes, the mantra of the self, the will of the artist imposing his vision, something very tasteful and almost pure – which is in keeping with Paul Schutze’s ambient music, so far away from my own, deliberately bad tasted wild abandonment). The difference in temperament exhibited here quite fascinates me; the interiority of it, and whether I should keep this one, therefore, myself, or give it to Yoko, is something I haven’t yet quite decided on yet.

 

 

 

 

I think that she can have Cirebon though, and Tears Of Eros, much as am attracted to that name. As with Behind The Rain, both of these other Paul Schutze perfumes are quite  subtle creations that smell contemporary and cool ( you can imagine the punters at the Carnival Aquaria, serious in their art spectacles and Yohji Yamamoto-draped blackness wearing this type of fragrance – they would be perfect for the interlaced canals and vast spaces that are characteristic of that area). Cirebon is a sharp green orange cedar, with bergamot, bigarade, petitgrain and orange flower tempered by a cedar and ‘cyclamen/magnolia’ (both imaginary flowers in perfumery as no essence exists) but which to me smells overwhelmingly of clary sage –   an essential oil I have used in the past but which doesn’t suit me temperamentally (if you use it while you are drinking, even just in the room in an oil burner, it can have quite deleterious effects and you might fall asleep in the bath; it can also make you aggressive);  a weird smell, actually, almost turpentine-like, and not an ingredient that is mentioned here, but which in my mind the perfume is dominated by, at least on initial inspection.

 

 

 

 

On the skin, it is more subdued, with a citrus/wood amalgamation that puts me in mind, almost, of the original Tommy, a perfume I detested back in the day, almost to the point of phobia – it was also very prevalent which made it even worse – but which I still emphatically perfectly understood the entire attraction of; very sexy, that bitter counterpoint the whole point, a constant suggestion. This one is similar but more subdued, more……..clever, more orangey, and I like the idea of Yoko – who hasn’t worked in seventeen years but is going back, finally, at the end of this month, in order to get financial independence for her and her kids and maybe get that divorce after all  – wearing some of Cirebon on her wrists underneath her newly purchased black suits. Such touches can be the markings of success.

 

 

 

 

 

Tears Of Eros, is by far the weirdest of the three perfumes I am writing about here today. The most artificial, and metallic, with a silvery hyacinth and ambergris heart and guaiacwood/’green incense’ accord that I can’t entirely make head or tails of. Incomprehensible, it is just strange, with an eventual, quite stirring, dirty, labdanum underlick lurking at the heart of its centre, that, after an hour or two, finally emerges. Penetrating, but with an air of mystery. Unknowable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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16 Comments

Filed under abstract moderns, Antidotes to the banality of modern times, autobiography, Green, Incense, Mastic, PERFUME AND PERFORMANCE

R E P L I C A N T S

 

 

 

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“So swollen with purpose, so titanically self-conscious in its myth making, that at times it nearly paralyzes itself with solemnity”, 

 

 

 

opines critic Ty Burr, for the Boston Times, definitely in the minority for his ambivalent review of Denis Villeneuve’s newest film Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 science fiction classic Blade Runner, currently doing the multiplex rounds and the object of infatuated critical response.

 

 

 

 

His summary of the film encapsulated my own feelings completely though.

 

 

 

 

We emerged from the cinema on Saturday night so delighted to be back in the cold fresh air, to be back in real life, after three hours of crushing, reverential seriousness and spectacular special effects and artful production design and the reverberating oppression of the synthesized score, finally beginning to to feel as if we could breathe again, packed under the weight of the portentous seriousness and the grand themes of humans and technology and artificial intelligence and whether virtually real creatures can fall in love. A future world, a dystopia that was so treeless and depressing I could hardly bear to watch it. The plight of the ‘replicants’ – the humanoid creatures at the heart of the film who live and respire like us but are man-made and thus disposable. Slaves.

 

 

 

 

Potentially absorbing subjects, yes, and I did love the original, and also rather like director Denis Villeneuve (whose Prisoners, starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal was a mesmerizingly intense and dark crime drama that really gripped me and whose recent Arrival, another sci-fi starring Amy Adams as a linguist trying to make contact with extra-terrestrials was also rather interesting, and quite beautiful to look at). I like his aesthetic, so there was no way I was not going to see his take on Blade Runner 2049 this weekend and drag Duncan alongside with me.

 

 

 

Prior to seeing the film, we had a delightful Japanese meal at one of our favorite izakaya near the cinema in Tsujido – red lanterns and wooden tables, the only foreigners in there, packed, tucked in at the counter table near where the cooks were wreathed in steam and smoke and shouting enthusiastically in tandem with the waiters as the orders came in; delicious yakitori and tofu and our first winter nabe hotpot of the season that felt like very necessary soul food – we ate it in silence, immersed in the ambience of the restaurant, and then moved on contentedly to the cinema, looking forward to new evocations of Shinjuku and giant neon screens familiar from the city itself and the original classic.

 

 

 

I was bored to death though. It felt like molasses. Like a vacuum. I love slow and beautiful films, but this felt almost interminable. Like a gradual asphyxiation. Choking in black.  I even asked D if we should leave the cinema half way through (could we make it to the very end?), but we decided to stay and brave it out. Surrender to it as it washed over you and crushed you. Slumped in our seats, in the dark. A slow, viscous black of cinematic texture that certainly impressed with its ‘design’ and its almost tactile heaviness and peculiarly realistic feel, but which also seemed to have no heart, nor tension, nor propulsion nor real dramatic interest but which was drowning instead under the weight of its sheer duty to not betray the original film and yet also to showcase the originality of the director’s successor in a morass of such humorless ‘philosophical’ gravity that it felt, almost, more like an ordeal of ‘quality’ and sturdily scientific ‘good taste’ than an evening of pleasure or entertainment.  We came out numb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And yet yesterday, and even today, I find the film lingering still in my consciousness. It is in me. And despite what I have written here, and quite perversely, I almost really want to go back and see it again ( I very nearly just abandoned this post to rush back to the cinema to try it in 3D).  Perhaps it was the level of consternation of so many of my friends who really loved it and were outraged by my initial reaction to it that makes me want to reassess it. Perhaps it touches me in some way I don’t entirely understand. Perhaps it went under the skin.

 

 

 

 

Do I identify with the main protagonist, K, played by Ryan Gosling,  in some way? A replicant human who is employed by the corporation that created him, a vital part of the organization and yet outside of it? It might be an overreach to say so. And yet the experience of being a permanent, eternal etranger here in Japan, while having its fair few privileges and attractions and beautiful dreamness (I don’t think either of us has remotely tired of those yet and who knows if we will ever leave) can still be very alienating, disturbing, fascinating – like K staring at his hands and yearning for humanity, myself aware of my otherness and whiteness in a way that is perturbingly, but importantly, quite different from the familiarly European or American or any other Caucasian majority nation standard white gaze out on to the other – the darker skinned, the ‘alien’. Here, obviously, it is in reverse. Privileged, certainly, but still a complicated lodestone of Japanese complexes of superiority and inferiority, interiorized. A useful lesson, but still very distancing. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have long been the only foreigner working at my company, or at least the only one that has a permanent position. Teachers from all over the world are contracted to teach English conversation classes for the elementary school sixth graders, a couple of times a week, just short, entertaining lessons at the various schools in Kanagawa Prefecture, but I never meet them. I am alone in my position of almost total independence and autonomy. Trusted to do the job in my own way. Uninterfered with.  It has been me, and only me, for seventeen years – a strange predicament whose origins I don’t understand entirely (why put yourself in a position where you are culturally, to some extent, permanently estranged? )

 

 

 

 

And yes, it has sometimes been difficult psychologically for me, as any job is, even (especially?) with people of your own nationality – don’t tell me you have never had work frictions – but it has also been endlessly fascinating: I am a natural voyeur and an analyst, and for me it has been like living as a borrowed infiltrator, a person who has absorbed what he has seen and understood a totally different culture intuitively, even when it is sometimes impossible to put into words. The madness of it. The beauty of it. The elegance. The obedience and sadomasochism. The physicality (when every person you interact with is Japanese, and those features become absolutely the norm of your eye), your own invisibility yet constant standing out;  its almost willing erosion of your heart and soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In September suddenly there were two of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a sea of hundreds of Japanese people: another permanent White Teacher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And it has been strange. Awkward; something to adapt to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cynic, expatriate, anyone who knows anything about foreigners from overseas who have come to Japan (and often never leave), will assume, quite rightly perhaps, that my ‘uniqueness’ as the only white ‘charisma man’, the term given to pathetic people whose status and self-worth is built upon their identity as an ‘unusual’ foreigner, was unduly threatened by the invasion of this newcomer: everyone knows – it is a standing joke here – how unnerved foreigners (or ‘gaijin‘, the slightly pejorative term used for and ironically by the non-Japanese here) are by the presence of other gaijin: you don’t know where to look, whether to smile and nod in acknowledgement, or to look in the other direction, which is what almost everybody does, your bubble of insularity and nothingness and sheer emancipation in some ways from your former self temporarily burst by your unwanted reflection. It is almost a shock, sometimes, to see someone else who is in such a tiny minority of the population and has also made the strange decision to immerse themselves deeply into a society that doesn’t really want them but which, secretly, is equally very struck, bemused, and intrigued by their difference, their alienness –  a discomfiting mirror. A reminder. A threat to your serenity. As in the film, where replicants are trained to kill one another to take out old models, but where other replicants are forming resistance armies, there is a dis-ease sometimes with your ‘own kind’, as if you wanted never to be remembered to yourself: to just blend, or even disappear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other man, who I shall call Michel, is from France. Intelligent, tall, dignified –  perhaps troubled –  and about ten years younger than me, he has been employed in the company since March as an English teacher who teaches English in Japanese. Unlike myself, employed as a native speaker and communicating with all English teachers in English but all other staff in Japanese, treated as a valued member of the school I think but definitely not quite part of it – because of his superior Japanese ability as well as his fluent English, Michel works as a Japanese member of staff, and is treated as such. He is ‘one of the teachers’. He has been absorbed. Partly. He is a novelty. A new kind of hybrid (the central conceit of Blade Runner 2049 is the possible existence of the child of human/replicant parents, or even fully replicant, a potentially lethal revelation – as the artificial humans were assumed to be sterile – that might endanger the stability of the strict replicant/human divide, imbuing the former with humanity, and more importantly, a soul.)

 

 

 

 

And while not subjected to the full, exhausting schedule of the other teachers, which only the Japanese teachers would put upon themselves, he attends the meetings, and team teaches with them, and, essentially, acts like them, behaves as a Japanese, which is not something I have ever done because I am incapable of it and not only because of my stubborn linguistic handicap – it goes more inwards, and it would feel like some kind of treason or terrible capitulation. It is instinctive. I just can’t. I have never wanted to. I have always refused to. For whatever reason, it would be like letting go of my inner core, a freakish pantomime. To my eyes,  to be bowing and scraping and subverting yourself, if you are not Japanese, just looks too unnatural somehow- it looks like theatre, it looks buffoon. It makes me cringe. I would also love to know what my Japanese colleagues secretly, really think too.

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I met a lovely English girl for the first time recently, Polly – long term resident, writer, and sensitized to this environment as phobically as I am; nervous, too sentient, like me, a person who seems to feel the same in her love/hate relationship to it all though she is tipping over more to the latter side, now,  and is soon going to leave and ‘go back’ (where ‘a different set of internal organs will be affected’, she memorably told me…)

 

 

 

 

 

Polly is now a freelance Japanese/English translator here and thus has no problem communicating, but she still, also, like me, can’t quite bear the sight of a foreigner putting himself through the motions, of aping and mimicking the gestures and body language and honorific language when he knows that he will never really be thought of as part of it all…….to both our sets of trained and languishing eyes it is embarrassing, undignified, almost,  slipping willingly into an alien skin, an unnatural carapace like a sealed deep sea diver trapped within airtight glass of taut atmospheric pressure, gesticulating pointlessly and mouthing like a dumdum. Clownish. Like the lumbering but always good-intentioned Frenchman in Shusaku Endo’s ‘Wonderful Fool’.

 

 

 

 

 

Not that Michel is anything but charming and thoughtful and sensitive and very capable. I like him. I would like to get to know him better. And we have had some quite interesting, if occasionally fraught, conversations about various issues, where we realized how different our politics are; slightly guarded exchanges, the eyes flickering occasionally with some kind of mutual suspicion, or at least an uncomfortable wariness while we attempt to find some common ground (he had gone six months being ‘the only one’ while I was in hospital and at home so it must have been something of a shock, for him as it was for me, to adapt to the other’s presence). We both want to keep our own space. We both admit that it feels weird speaking too loudly in English (or in French, for extra confidentiality) in the teacher’s room, like an impingement on the Japanese harmony of the space. That we must know our rightful place. An invasion of the bodysnatchers.

 

 

 

 

 

There is some kind of hyperconsciousness. As you will see from reading this. This comes not from me, though, at least I don’t think so. It is possible that I am paranoid, but essentially I think I am just processing and reacting to what is there. Japan is neurotic and hypersensitive to everything foreign and I am just responding to it.  It goes down deep into the insular DNA, the land that was sealed off from the rest of humanity for century after century. The island.  The mythical Nippon. You can’t escape it, and it is part of the pleasure of living here, in a contrarian kind of way. You make of it what you will. You live the Japanese life that you want to. Or that you are able to. It is a choice. But judging from our exchanges so far, it is obvious that he is by far the Japanophile – with plenty of reservations and criticisms of the culture, still – but he does really seem to love it here, and seems to have left France far behind, for reasons he has not gone into and which I have not probed. Here he is more comfortable, despite his very French fundamental nihilism and what I feel is some kind of suppressed despair, and his socially gregarious, polite and generally genuinely likable self.  In that way, I feel we are the opposite. I like to imagine that I am happy within myself, deep down, but that it is society and the falsity of communication and the oppression of stupid, arbitrary rules imposed on us from without that get me down. The ‘outside world’. And in escaping both the strictures of my culture of birth but also rejecting most of the one that I have adopted, I have found a strange form of spiritual freedom. A place where I can ‘be’. As has he. But unlike me, Michel is great at the Japanese small talk, and the friendly banter – something I have much more difficulty with – I go straight for the crux – and is essentially far, far more pleasant, nicer than I ever could be, more ingratiating, even.  I find it impressive. But for me when I am observing, quietly from my corner (we only encounter each other in various schools intermittently) it also feels like a weird, self-conscious replication of something. It feels like an act. Or is it just jealousy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

 

The intense, almost unnerving feeling of being quasi- repelled within my own skin (an interesting sensation – this must be what happens to all racial minorities when overexposed to the majority ethnicity of the country they live in) came one evening in early October when the two of us were alone in the teachers’ room, all Japanese teachers having gone to their lessons. Preparing lessons, typing at our computers, and occasionally talking. We were sitting at our desks, visible to the students from the outside. And I noticed that two of them, young girls, who had come to ask their teachers a question, were looking in from the corridor with slightly odd looks on their faces, dismay, even, or at the very least discomfiture, and I immediately felt some form of perturbance ; an awareness of my skin, that the teacher’s room had been colonized by Europeans.  I really felt that I could feel the students’ slight discomfort and even the school secretary’s: that we had almost taken over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I felt, in fact for a moment, almost like an android; uncanny.

 

 

 

 

 

Acrylic.

 

 

 

 

 

White.

 

 

 

 

Clammy.

 

 

 

 

Waxen. 

 

 

 

 

Piggish. Keen:  flushed with Europeanness.

 

 

 

 

An amphibious, capillaried skin pallor; drained yet somewhat pinkish with our Caucasian, more prominent noses ( we don’t look entirely dissimilar, M and I; vaguely Napoleonic); our melatonin depleted irises – his blue; mine green.

 

 

 

 

Cold beacons of light in a more usual, familiar sea of penetrating, brown, nearly black,   indigenous eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big-limbed, ungainly, straw-haired goons seeking oblivion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

36 Comments

Filed under autobiography, cinema + perfume, Organic

THE GUILT AND THE REGRET

 

 

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It has suddenly dawned on me that I only have a week left, not two, before returning back to work. That this is over. That a period of almost six months, a big, unprecedented chunk of time to get over the major knee surgery I had back in March (that feels, in ‘reality’ more like six weeks – it has passed so quickly I can hardly believe it), and which I thought would feel like an endless, half year sabbatical during which I would achieve all kinds of wonders –  but failed to – is coming to a close as the summer ends, and autumn approaches, and the teaching begins, even though I am not remotely ready for it to do so.

I am not even, by any stretch, fully recovered. I had assumed that I would be walking pretty much normally; would be embarrassed by the fact that I was breezing into work all physically and mentally buff without the aid of any walking sticks, making it appear as though I have just been skiving off work without any reason, to the envy of my Japanese co-workers who have been slaving it through the summer and who cannot in a million years even imagine two weeks away from their jobs ( even when sick), let alone half a year, when the arrogant foreigner comes slinking back to his desk as though nothing had happened, with a sigh and a heavy heart nevertheless, because in his heart of hearts he wishes that the convalescence, and the freedom to do absolutely nothing, could have gobe on indefinitely, forever.

At least, then, I will still look like a vaguely pitiful, half-baked cripple. They will have visible evidence in front of them that I have, in fact, been through the wringer. Just from seeing the way that I walk. The pain from my swollen joints. The fact that my knees still ‘give’ on occasion and I stumble. The odd gait. My winces. For although I have undoubtedly made a great deal of progress since my ‘bilateral, closed wedge high tibial osteotomies’, eight hour surgery (for those readers not familiar with all of this) that required the breaking, cutting and rearranging of my legs so that I would have to learn to walk again from zero, or minus more like, because initially, they weren’t even really like legs, when I woke up, just bleeding, bruised, swollen and paralyzed appendages covered in ice packs that I felt no connection to and which I couldn’t move at all and which let me feeling helpless and inconsolable and full of regret that I had even gone through with it (it was only later that I realized in fact what a major undertaking this all has been : it is very rare for people to have both legs operated on at the same time, particularly with the more painful and complicated ‘closed wedge’ procedure that I had to sign up for – most hospitals only consent to perform the surgery on one leg at a time, at yearly intervals ( what was I thinking?!), and if I look back at myself in March, and April, and then see my situation now, able – at home at least – to move around by myself without sticks, I cannot argue with the fact that I have made a great deal of progress indeed, relatively speaking. Undeniable. I went from immobile and paralzyed, to wheel chair, to slow walking frame, to sticks, to being able now to walk around the house; a flamingo with no support at all.

At the same time, by the half year mark, a good percentage of osteotomy patients (according to the ‘internet’, and therein lies the danger), are playing tennis, walking normally, even jogging, supposedly, yet here I am with all this pain in my joints, deteriorated muscles in my thighs, calves and ankles that I am still trying to strengthen with weekly or bi-weekly physio sessions at a nearby hospital, definitely not the slimmed down, fit as a fiddle, legs like tree trunks September teacher that I thought I was going to be, one who would have spent this long, long hot summer fruitfully, maybe one who had even started writing that book, who had really achieved something, the Bionic Man. Instead, the time has just slipped by, like sand through my fingers.

Then again, when I have talked about this to the people I know – it has been a very sociable and friend-driven time, with hospital visits and stays at our house galore, lots of sitting about and talking and drinking and watching films on the projector, or meet ups in Tokyo, most people I have spoken to about this have said that I am actually being way too hard on myself , that the only thing I really have needed to be focusing on, in fact, for the entire duration, is my recovery, and that to even think about trying to ‘achieve’ other things, in my circumstances, is unrealistic, still languishing in my painkiller cocoon and the heaviest heat of July and August. My mother knew that this would be the case all along. That to even be able to walk ( but why isn’t it more painless? and smoother? and less fraught?) is a great achievement in itself. And I suppose it is. I see severely handicapped people walking on the streets, sometimes, twisted and contorted and with great determination in their eyes just to move forwards, and I feel a lot of gratitude that I am not personally in such a situation. It has, I suppose, been a success, and the entire purpose of the six months off from work recommended by my surgeon was simply to recover from what was essentially a very traumatic experience, the only foreigner in a Japanese hospital having my legs snapped and sliced up then stuck in an in the middle of nowhere Yokosuka rehabilitation ward for two months while the wounds healed, my slow and tentative physiotherapy began, and, where like a baby, I literally learned to put one foot hesitantly, and painfully, in front of the other.

I think the real guilt, if I am truly honest, comes in the lack of guilt I feel in the knowledge of how much I have actually rather enjoyed the whole experience. As readers, you will be the judge of how depressed, or not, I seemed in hospital, as I was expressing myself to you there quite frequently live to you raw and in the flesh, attempting to paint pictures of my time there in sensorial detail, the complexities, and the truth that there is beauty everywhere and anywhere, even in the bland confines of a private hospital room. My mad torrent of impressions that I posted on the last day of my stay, ‘Seventeen things I have realized in hospital’ surprised even me in its sheer length and passion: ironically, or perhaps predictably, I don’t know, the sheer stimulus of, or the reacting against, the institutionalization I was gradually succumbing to brought some muscle and some vigor to my writing that melted away once I flopped into the perfumed, sybaritic environs of our house, where I had no schedule any more to pitch my time against, and where I awoke to the bliss each morning that I had nothing whatsoever to do except get on with my exercises while watching films and documentaries ( heaven !) or playing records ( ditto) or reading the New York Times ( the same ) while drinking coffee ( nectar!); that it was summer, which I love far, far more than the other seasons combined, and most importantly, that I didn’t have to work.

I know when I go back next week (nooooooooo!!!!) that there will be plenty of abnormally workaholic Japanese colleagues who I work with who will be bewildered and uncomprehending if I admit to them shyly that I managed to ‘get through’ six months off from work without getting bored (not one second); that I was able to satisfyingly occupy my time ( absolutely); that I didn’t require outside interference and imposed structure in order to feel stimulated, useful, or worthwhile as a human being (why would I?) True, I do feel quite lazy. Incredibly, unbelievably, shamefully lazy, or indolent, or decadent, or just outrageously, insultingly self indulgent, but my job – though enjoyable, stimulating, and definitely good for me, in the long run, because it keeps me in society where I can do something good for people, for the youth; prevents me from becoming a total Queen of Sheba lying prostate and luxuriating in the moment and the sunbeams while sipping red wine from golden chalices ( we literally have some ) and dangling grapes into my far too active, orally fixated mouth as I smear myself unctuously with unguents and perfumes and sing along to the music –  is just that : a job, work; something to bring home the bacon and keep me alive and not ending up on a park bench, essential: but ultimately, at the end of the day, though theoretically it pains me to admit this,  I have no work ethic. Yes, I care very much about each lesson, how it goes, and how the students are actually doing, my reputation, the school’s success rate, so I try and do my best whenever I am teaching (there are few things more depressing than a bad lesson, trust me) and I really do need the money ( right now I have none – I am living off Duncan, like a parasite ), but as for working for the sake of working, like a rat on a wheel, I truly, at the end of the day, can’t be arsed. Given the choice, I would not.  I have already been teaching for twenty five years, a quarter of a century. Is that not sufficient?

Work have been actually very good to me. Long gone are the Bubble days, when English teachers, ‘foreigners’ were treated like gods and paid like kings for just speaking their own language. I arrived after this time, but even then, conditions were good, and there were plenty of escapees like me just making a living, evading the realities of their home countries by immersing themselves in the incomprehensible exotic, hanging out with each other partying, just having another adolescence, really, because they couldn’t really think of anything better to do and were just living for the moment until they saw a light at the end of the tunnel or a different opportunity. Still, the economy changed, many fled after the earthquake, and attitudes towards them hardened. With the country far more inward looking and less internationally minded now in my opinion (yes, despite the coming Olympics, there is no doubt that the younger generation is more insular and Japanese in many ways); in spite of the need for the country to produce more competent English speakers- really, the general level of spoken English here is really quite embarrassing compared to surrounding Asian countries- the ‘eikaiwa’ teacher now often works in quite appalling work conditions and I am actually extremely lucky to have the position that I do. I certainly don’t take it for granted. When the company that both Duncan and I originally worked for went bankrupt after a scandal, several years ago, there were reports of teachers having to beg for food because they were not getting paid; lesson by lesson, by the hour pay contracts, no benefits, no holidays, quite undignified with no future prospects. And definitely no paid leave of absence ( I was given three months just out of kindness, even though it wasn’t part of my contract) or keeping your job open for you, nor genuine concern for your well being. I am fortunate.

Still, I feel some worry, if not exactly guilt, or regret, about what it is going to be like when I skulk back into the teachers room at one of the schools I work in next Tuesday, my first day back after all this time. Although the teachers at the university entrance exam section I mainly work in were solicitous and kind to me before the operation, giving me a big good luck card and a portable DVD player for the hospital, and several of the teachers also came to visit me there, the high school entrance exam section, far more basic on every level, were quite vexingly blase to almost an inhuman degree. I was furious with them on my last day for the total lack of interest in what was going to happen to me. I am not narcissistic enough to assume that my tedious health issues should be great cause for other people’s attention, particularly seeing how busy they always are, plus with all the paid holiday I get compared to them (as a yearly contract worker I get the holiday, which is precisely why I took the job and why I can write this blog and actually have a life, unlike them), but not the bonuses, the pension, the health insurance, I suppose they just assumed ah yes, there he is, the hoity toity Englishman, off from work again, the unindustrious bastard, so perhaps there was some kind of resentment towards me I don’t know, but even though everyone knew that I was in a lot of pain and that I was about to have some quite scary sounding surgery, no one, except one very cultured man I get along well with and who came to see me after my operation, said so much as a good luck, a hope you get well soon, or even a grunt of human decency as I tidied my text, took my things, and walked out of the school.

Which is why, when I then got an email saying that the entire office of that very same high school section was going to come and visit me in hospital after the operation a few weeks later, I flipped and said no way, because the idea was completely intolerable to me.This is actually a very big faux pas in Japanese society; things are done a certain way and you have to abide by these rules, but I was so infuriated by the hypocrisy of the situation  – people only doing something out of duty when they don’t even particularly like the person involved even though they had the opportunity to show concern a long time before, that I told my boss that I didn’t want visitors and wouldn’t see anybody. I weighed up the situation; accepting something just to keep the status quo, having a motley bunch of bad smelling worn out slave teachers filling up my hospital room and going through the motions with them, but at that time I was so fragile and neurotic I knew that no matter what happened I couldn’t possibly bear it for even a minute, let alone an hour, and when I get like this I will do anything it takes to prevent something intolerable from happening to me, no matter what the consequences. I become a total nutcase. I don’t regret it, exactly, but even so, it will be quite embarrassing having to face these people; the incident will create yet another level of enamel, or plaque, between us, yet another barrier preventing me from ever getting close. Still, I only have to teach in that place one day a week, and the other schools are far more sophisticated and welcoming. Wednesday should be a totally different situation altogether.

I regret, quite a lot though, that I am going back in such bad shape. Not spic and span, ‘fixed’ with my brand new shining legs. Is it my fault? It’s hard to say. How much responsibility does the patient have for his or her post operative progress and rehabilitation? I did everything that I was told to do. Perhaps I was just too in love with my young physiotherapist to be listening properly to what he was saying I should do at home as my post-operative exercises (this I feel a lot of guilt about, if not regret; it may have hurt Duncan, how much, who can say, he never would  – he has had his own crush in the past, a harmless, unacted upon one, just like this, but still; though I knew that nothing was ever going to come of it, which is why I wrote about it, to kill it in sunlight, and it was probably just some form of Florence Nightingale Syndrome, when sheer dependency and vulnerability can make you feel so emotional, in retrospect I feel that it was mutual; not the deep geological strata that I have with my loved one – and it has been a full on Summer Of Love in recent months – but more like a shallow lake of beautiful clear water shimmering near the surface that I had to wrench myself away from, just because. Still, it may have clouded my judgement about how good exactly he was as a physiotherapist when I think about it now; both of the people that treated me at that original hospital helped to get me back on my feet, so I am intensely grateful to them, of course, but the lack of a clear post-hospital programme once I got back home – I was just given generic exercises that I don’t think were sufficient to strengthen the muscles that needed strengthening – and in full disclosure, was I even doing them all diligently enough in the first place? You know my innate laziness… I don’t know…..)

Whoever is responsible, something isn’t working right; the x-ray displays perfect growth of the new bones, but it doesn’t show the muscles, and the tendons. Maybe I have wrecked my knees with my stupid, grotesque, Burning Bush dancing?

 

 

 

 

 

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I was finally able to attend the most recent screening of Duncan and Yukiro’s comedy horror film Girl Goned on August 11th, having missed the premiere and other showings while I was in the hospital (even if I did watch it on my phone as the events unfurled live on my screen). It was fantastic to be finally out in Tokyo again, with a whole group of friends, most of us dressed up in costumes, me as my character/ alter ego, Burning Bush who is the foulest villain of the movie, and walking through Shinjuku in that get up at 2am in the morning, bathed in neon, stopped and photographed and smiled at by random strangers was surreal and peculiarly liberating after all these times just stuck on the rented kitchen bed at home like some down on his luck geriatric.  Recently, I have just felt so encumbered and ungainly with my walking, like Frankenstein, and though this character also was using sticks, they felt more like props that just quite nicely set off the whole get up to even more amusing effect. In this picture (is that really me? I think I look like a mix of Madonna singing Like A Virgin; a zombie, and a pint size little rag doll, mainly because the drag queen standing next to me was just so very gigantic.)

 

Nevertheless, I shouldn’t have been ‘dancing’ as I was at the film party (but I was just so glad to be back…..); not dancing, exactly, but on sticks, moving about a bit – did I damage the tentative healing of my legs in the process? Should I have been just staying in at home and doing the exercises the entire summer, like a good little ogre, or should I also have been training myself to get out and about? To learn how to get on the escalators in the station, on and off trains and buses (all quite difficult at first), to get myself back into society when I knew that by September I had to be totally ready for it? There has been just so much conflicting advice and opinions from so many different professionals, that at times I have just felt like giving up or chopping them right off – go on the bike, don’t go on the bike, go up stairs, don’t go up stairs, do this exercise, don’t do that exercise, that it is impossible to know how much activity I am actually supposed to have been doing. At times it has all just been overwhelming.

Which leads us to another thing that I definitely do feel guilt and regret about – not losing weight. This, obviously, is a major way to make the burden on the knee joints much lighter, and leading to less pain (and less bullying at work; yes, I am writing this sentence quite seriously: Japan can be quite appalling, really cruel when it comes to such things. People never hesitate to tell you when you have put on weight here). In hospital, on that wan, repulsive rice and fish diet, even supplemented by smuggled in choco, I lost quite a bit of weight, much to everyone’s delight, as I am considered by others (but not by myself) to be this morbidly obese shadow of my former self. But anyway, sadly, greed, gluttony, inactivity and boozing, though, have put it all back on again and more; I bought an exercise bike precisely for this problem and was working hard on sweating away those extra pounds while watching Netflix on hot July mornings and quite enjoying the endorphins but my newest physiotherapist (very good; thorough; rigorous, experienced) doesn’t think this is good for my inflamed and swolled joints right now, so again, heeding yet again the latest advice, I have stopped.

Do I regret all this? I don’t know. I don’t think so. We’ve had such fun. A blurry, and memorable few beautiful months following the initial stress of the surgery and its aftermath, which at the time was exhausting for us both (and for you readers, too, I imagine – I think this is the last time that I am going to talk about any of it for the time being). It’s been so lovely just sitting together on the tropical balcony upstairs having beers and settling into a gorgeous sunset dream state, or sinking into the new Twin Peaks series, stoked on Sicilian red wine. Nice dinners, spent out on the town. A summer of just living in the moment; being oblivious, or trying to, with the world the way that it has been; poised in the membrane somewhere between reality and somewhere else. Content. Happy.

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Filed under Antidotes to the banality of modern times, autobiography, Depressed, Psychodrama