Friday, November 30, 2007

Again, a hot night in June

finally getting around to editing some video footage Lisa shot of the concert with my quartet at the 7 Lezards in Paris last June. This is the lovely ballad, 'Again' taken from a rather seedy gangster movie of the 40's. It's a gorgeous tune but not too well known... it hit the top 10 three times in the 40's and 50's...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Puns or parody

At first I thought the Japanese were just doing daft things with the English language, but after wandering by clothing stores with names like 'Double Standard Clothing', and 'Injeaneas' and the cocktail bar called 'Bar:ah'ghe' I'm now wondering who is playing semantic mind games with whose language... I may never know... here's a few of my favourites so far...

first the fine 'girl about town' store....



the wonderful and tempting sports drink...



the pickled tidbits store



possibly my favourite and possibly most inexplicable...



nothing much to say apart from 'me too'



and who can argue that when it comes to advertising canned cold coffee that two Tommy's are better than one

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Just odd... just really odd



Not sure if any picture can do justice to this...partly because it faces onto a tiny four foot alley... but this is the Christmas Themed Love (ie... available for hourly rental) Hotel that is round the corner from the Ramada in Osaka ... four floors of xmas fun and cheer. In the pictures on the sign there are a variety of xmas themed rooms for rent .. with elves and reindeers bounding around the bed... and this is a permanent hotel... its not just there for the next month or so...

and right next to it, as far as I can figure out from the signage... is a place where businessmen go to watch girls dressed up as cartoon characters playing in a rock band....

just odd... really odd...


Monday, November 26, 2007

Osaka

sitting back in my hotel room with my head spinning from an extraordinary day. Feet so sore I can hardly bear them touching floor....been walking since 11. Going to climb into the bath in a moment and soak.





Started off in Nara, where I might have to go back to. I didn't go to half of the sights...still apparently a whole section of buildings that are some of the oldest wooden structures in the world. The temple grounds of Nara are an immense park that were originally intended to be the new seat (8th Century) of Buddhism. And they built the most extraordinary temples and this immense Bronze Buddha that is so beautiful. I don't think any of the photos or videos will capture how amazing it is. Then temple after temple stretching up and over these hills.




I got Lisa what I think is a very beautiful gift, which I'll mail tomorrow. In the temple hall of the Buddha there were two monks selling silk lined blank books, they inscribed the first page with hand done calligraphy and stamped it with two wax seals. They were really lovely little men, one with a long white beard. So I waited in line and got one. I'm afraid she'll have to have it translated... but I think it will basically be a good luck wish, since everything else at the stand was some kind of charm.



At that point I lost track of the cast and just wandered at my own pace through these grounds... stopped in a little thatched roof tea house and had Matcha tea under the ginko and pine trees, doused myself in water from an enormous bronze fountain shaped like a lotus leaf. All the fall colors were out as well so it was just beautiful. And!... the deer is their sacred animal, so there are hundreds of tame deer wandering around mooching food like enormous squirrels.



Then, wandered into the little town and bought sweet buns of freshly cooked black bean and persimmon paste wrapped in rice, steamed and powdered in sesame powder (apparently the speciality of the town). I'm sitting now and eating the rest of them, now chilled from the walk home.



The train ride out to Nara from Osaka was about 35 minutes, but on the way back I got on the local train by mistake, but which ended up being very cool since all the schoolkids were using it to get home and it was filled with all these crazy uniformed kids (five year old boys in full military uniforms with gold epaulets and tasselled hats!). When we got back into town I hopped off in the middle of the city in the hopes of stumbling upon something cool, and basically from the moment I walked off the train I just powered through all these extraordinary neighbourhoods. First wandered into the entertainment district and ate noodles and roast pork at one of those streetside stands with a huge orange dragon leaning over my head while hundreds of people wandered by (actually there were always hundreds of people walking by...Osaka seems to live out on the street). Then I followed Fodor's advice and walked into the 'fashion' district...which is basically where those crazy Japanese outfits are sold to a willing public. Endless alleys of tiny stores selling truly crazy clothes... and tiny little trendy teenage girls wandering by with 'glow in the dark' hair, combat jackets and pink tutus with their legs shaking from the 4 inch stilettos on their knee length patent leather boots...and I won't even begin on the insane outfits on their boyfriends...





You know, I should always remember just to walk and walk in any new city. The only way I can really understand a place is on my feet. Perhaps that's why I'm getting Osaka more than Tokyo, since it is possible to walk here...

anyway, I decided to try and make it home on the street (about a three hour walk). Next up was their version of 5th Avenue...with luxury stores all over the place. I'm not big on brand names, but the Dior store is incredible - a five story building sheathed in thin slabs of translucent white travertine marble and lit from within. Luckily at about that point I ran into the first of a series of people giving away free energy drinks... must have been some kind of citywide push for the product since by the time I got back to the hotel I'd had about five of them... it must have been about 6:30 by then since suddenly the streets filled up with people as everyone left their office. I'd been running out of steam but the wave of folk on the sidewalk sort of picked me up again and I headed into what turned out to be business district and walked for ages up a wide boulevard lined with hundreds and hundreds of Ginko trees. They were just starting to lose their leaves: so all these fan like yellow Ginko leaves, (they look more like petals than leaves) were slowly raining down into the evening.

Then, at one point the rush just got a bit much and I turned off onto a side street filled with Neon lights and found myself in a crazy high end red light district. All these wildly coiffed prostitutes with slinky dresses wrapped in fur coats grabbing packets of cigarettes at vending machines before heading into these marble fronted bars: obviously getting ready for a long night of work. They looked like characters from a Wong Kar Wai movie. There were even a few women dressed as Geishas shuffling along the sidewalk... though I'm not sure if they really were Geishas... I don't know if just dressing like a Geisha means you get to be one... I think these girls might have been fulfilling the 'Geisha Fantasy' post at whatever bar they worked at. And ( the first time that I've seen this type in Japan) a whole bunch of really hard eyed mean looking guys either standing watch on street corners and climbing out of cars with tinted windows....they looked like the stereotype of Japanese Yakuza gangsters. Happily I obviously wasn't the wanted kind of customer since I was basically invisible and I calmly wandered out the other side of the district....




then, to end the evening... when I thought I was almost home, and my feet were wishing I was, I turned a corner and found myself beside an immense block long and block wide building with an equally immense ferris wheel perched right on top... turned out to be a 11 story shopping mall 'entertainment complex', plus another seven floors of ferris wheel... and it was totally mobbed. I headed in under the life size blue whale hanging in the lobby. I wanted to check out the ferris wheel but never made it on. I burnt out on my way up - the last two floors turned out to be a crazy windowless Goth casino/gaming arcade filled with insane machines (would you like to sit and stick money into a machine that is turning in circles and has a full size version of the monster from Alien hanging over you?) by the time I stumbled onto the roof to watch the enormous ferris wheel go round I was kind too dizzy to think of getting onto it... (perhaps tomorrow night..)

Anyway... for the first time I feel like I've actually seen and tasted and been in Japan... and it is really everything I imagined it would be... just beautiful and strange and bladerunner like.... And the weather didn't hurt either. Today in the temple grounds it was T-shirt weather and in the evening I had my coat on, but my sweater stayed in my bag. Just amazing.

Nara nara nara

The Temple grounds at Nara... sublime

Downtown Osaka at night...

Crazy streetscene in Osaka, like something out of Bladerunner, wild neon, fashions, food... shaky footage from still camera on video setting...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

bullets

a view from the bullet train... we just threw ouselves on... it only stops for a couple of minutes at the station and of course the French musicians, being very French, have to get on, then stop, grumble, discuss, try and get back out, make a joke etc etc etc until the interpreter and conductors were freaking out at the back of the group... we managed to get on by the skin our teeth... video

A new language, a new meal


I think I'll have this with the hyphen dessert and an apostrophe cocktail....

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bar Bar Bar

Then Jean-Michelle, the percussionist, dragged a gang of us on the metro to the centre of town. I have to admit I was not totally impressed when we got there... seemed to be another anonymous modern town centre, but I trooped along dutifully to the Jazz cafe where he wanted us to see a singer and a band that he knew. And I was totally blown away. I'm not sure if the quality of my casio still camera video setting is going to capture the magic of this Bassist's playing, but he was extraordinary. Wow. Amazing and light and funny and deft and just wonderful playing.
video

Backstage Pass

The show in Yokohama was great... nice theatre, the big band swung, the people loved it, the tap number went great... I got to sign autographs afterwards... what could be better... here's a video of the pre show chaos as the crew sets up and the Band warms up and the dancers do sit ups...
video

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Shin means New

Shin means 'New'... now I know that. After a good hour of walking the streets of what looked like a business suburb of Kansas City or La Defence we decided just to give up on Shin-Yokohama and go to the mall...where we browsed in the mega-Muji and admired the strange and novel ways that the English and French languages are used and abused....



Then we sat in a Starbucks and listened to Nat King Cole singing Carols while Japanese commuters napped at the tables around us. (This country just seems more and more surreal.) Perhaps tomorrow evening we'll hop the metro and go to the heart of Old Yokohama with its historic Chinatown and the cemetery where the first foreigners to visit (or to force their way in) to Japan are buried. Meanwhile I'm going to hole up for the night with a whole pile of amazing Sushi and fresh made Tofu from the take-out in the mall and Green Tea from the dispenser in the lobby and get some work done... and maybe take another look at the Tap number that's been plaguing me for the last month.

The Japanese production company has been flawless so far, but the minor (MAJOR!) snag is that they painted the tap floor with a paint that is steadily getting more and more polished by the steel of the tap shoes. Last night it was literally like tapping on an ice rink.... our dance captain has said we'll cut the number unless they change the floor.... but just in case they don't, and we do it anyway then I want to be really sure I'm comfortable on my feet...

Tomorrow night we take the bullet train to a theatre and do another afternoon show. The theatre last night was more like a stadium than a theatre - 3000 seats maybe... 2500 at least and packed to the rafters. People are loving the show and I think its just getting better and better... the Big Band is tighter and we're having more fun on stage. It lasts almost two hours, but it races by. We do a costume change for each number and change in and out of our tuxes constantly... by the end of the show the backstage changing room is just a litter of clothes - they get thrown right left and centre as we're desperately getting into the new outfits.


And new Yokohama obviously needs a new hotel, so we're staying a 40 story circular tower with a hollow centre (thank goodness only on the 11th floor..) Later this evening I'll head up to the 40th floor cocktail bar and take a look at the view... see if I can recreate that 'Lost in Translation' feeling...