Thursday, December 30, 2004

Stiff Little Fingers..What I did on my Christmas NewYear Hols.

Thursday 30 December 2004
Im currently on holiday from December 29 to January 5 2005.
Well I survived Christmas Day intact.It was a Saturday this year which means I didnt have to work being one of my days off.I spent the previous day, Friday (duh)hobbling round paying my overdue residential tax which was due about 2 months earlier and various other pressing things I could no longer put off including the purchase of a roasted chicken,champagne and some painkillers.
All were consumed the next day tho I dont recommend mixing champagne and painkillers unless you want to spend the best part of the day passed out .
I received what I think was a final demand for payment in badly translated legal English from the local taxation department.I think they have the power to deduct tax owing directly from your bank account.Residential tax payments have to be made on a quarterly basis something my employer somehow neglected to tell me.
Anyway apart from paying the outstanding debt I also made it over to Tokyu Hands a wonderful department store which has just about anything you could ever want to purchase,including those hard to find 21cm rubber stoppers that go on the end of crutches and prevent you from slipping over lino and hazardous wet ceramic tiles.Unfortunately I have worn one of the aforesaid rubber stoppers out and as the orthapedic ward is closed till January 5 I had to find my own short-term
replacement.Which I did with the assistance of about 3 attentive staff.I also lugged home about 4 litres of liquid glue to be used in one of my more creative ventures....paper mache.
Paper Mache
I cant recall my first paper mache creation maybe it was the pig I made in Teachers College for an optional art course..God knows how it was graded.Since then when I have had the oppurtunity and creative urge I create the odd paper mache creature.
At my current place of servitude I have decorated a room with various creations including a flock of 5 flying pigs of various sizes and a mutant fish resembling a cross between Nemo and a piranha.It gives me something to stare at other than the wan ,often vacant faces of petulant teenagers and angst-ridden menopausal women who occupy the space which serves the dual purpose of torture chamber and babysiting room.
During the Christmas break I am finishing off a couple of clouds and a sign for the room itself.
I thought paper mache was a low brow thing kids did till I went to Florence and saw some amazing creations made of paper mache including a life size replica of Davids hand and various animal masks.There were two small shops given over completely to paper mache creations including some masks which used either oil paint or gold leaf paper.I spent the best part of an afternoon watching an elderly Italian woman patiently put the finishing touches to what appeared to be a unicorn-like creature mask.
Of course such things put what I do in the shade.Theres no comparison.What I like about paper mache is the relative low cost of the basic materials,for one thing I dont use gold leaf sheets.I had contemplated using silver oven foil as an alternative but it looks cheap and tacky.If nothing else the visit to Florence gave me lots of good ideas and inspiration.Theres a one week workshop/course available in Florence you can enrol in where you get to design and make a mask under the guidance of a local professor and his daughter.I was thinking of taking it sometime in the future.In the meantime as a way of relaxing and exercising whatever creative ability you have I recommend paper mache.Its a great way to get your hands sticky without going blind.
It can be very time consuming when you consider you have to wait for each layer of paper to dry and the finished product needs sanding and at least 2 coats of gesso (a bonding agent that seals the paper mache).Then finally the part I really like is applying the final touches usually 2-3 coats of paint and the same number of coats of varnish to seal the whole thing from dust and moisture.
Other Holiday Activities
As well as catching up on sleep and paper mache I have a number of books to read and videos or dvds to watch.Im currently reading a couple of things including a book by Stephen Jay Gould about " the misconceived gap between science and the Humanities" which is alot more interesting than this would at first suggest.Actually it a hell of alot more interesting than Stephen Hawkings "Brief History of Time" which although only 150 pages long was a very difficult read and at times I used it as a cure for my recurrent bouts of insomnia. Im balancing this by reading "2004s Best American Magazine Articles" a series of writing from American writers on various things such as interrogation methods,the identity of the man falling from the WTC building and the space shuttle disaster among other diverse subjects.
As for videos Ive got a few in mind I want to see including "Elephant" Gus van Sants take on Columbine and "Big Fish"..Tim Burtons latest production..I like to get the dvds and listen to the directors or actors commentary..often like the one thats included in "The Hours" dvd you get an insight into say.. why certain symbols were used and some things included or left out..seems whats left out is almost important as whats in.
2004 in Books
Finally some books that I enjoyed in this past year as I either killed time on the train to work or just escaped the mundaneness with.
First was Bill Brysons "A Short History of Nearly Everything" which presented science in its various guises in an informative entertaining way.The book has lead me on to other more 'sciencey 'stuff and writers such as Stephens Jay Gould and Hawking and other fascinating people such as the Haldanes and one Mr Newton a man of some gravity by all accounts..hopefully I`ll get to his Pulitizer Prize winning biography early in the New Year.
Secondly there was Philip Lopates "Waterfront" a meandering walk through and around Manhattan Island by one of its more famous resident writers.The book traces the history of Manhattan Island and its attractions and distractions including Central Park,Battery Point and the United Nations complex.I found the book really interesting.Lopate has a very matter of fact relaxed writing style and as hes a long-time inhabitant can add his own insight into the various development and redevelopment battles that have occurred on this valuable bit of real estate.I found myself wanting to go and see for myself the places he described..who knows maybe one day.
Finally "Stalingrad" by Antony Beevor a book about the destruction of a city that seemed to echo the current situation in Fullajah,Iraq.Although the death toll and numbers involved in this action were huge Beevor has somehow managed to maintain my interest through his research and detailed analysis of the struggle.I found myself using salt shakers and buttons on my kitchen table as I read to keep track of various indivduals and units he mentioned.Seems theres a lesson from history here that the American military and leadership should have learned...

Saturday, December 18, 2004

So this is Christmas...Saturday 18 December 2004

It doesnt feel like Christmas for a number of reasons.First and foremost for the first time in 3 years there is no sense of anticipation or I dont mean what Im going to get present-wise I mean theres no new Lord of The Rings movie or even if one wants to slum it no Harry Potter movie to look forward to this year.I remember seeing the first LOTR movie back in 2001 in New Zealand in a suburban theater..some of the locals pointing out during the screening look thats their brief movie career as an extra flashed across the screen vaguely reminding me of a meteorite shower that I saw in the early hours of one chilly midweek dawn recently.But I digress...I saw the second or the sequel in London paying nearly thrice the price I did in Christchurch and about half in Scunthorpe to see it again.If I recall the London ticket cost about 8pounds while in Scunthorpe it was about 4pounds give or take two trips to the refreshment counter.I saw the third and final chapter in Japan and in Rome as I had a couple of hours to kill before my train trip to Florence..unfortunately the movie was in Italian but still entertaining watching and hearing Gollum, Frodo and the rest speaking Italian..
The second reason it doesnt feel like Christmas is Im in Japan. Im used to hot weather at this time of the year,not the gloomy cool wintery days of grey concrete Nagoya where the sun gives up its daily struggle and packs up by 4pm not even bothering with a half-hearted dusk or polluted sunset.
The third reason it doesnt feel like Christmas is that it goes on for soooo long.Its just a 2month sales campaign as far as supermarkets and companies are concerned guilt tripping you to unload yourhard earned winter bonus buying all manner of year end and Christmas presents.theres very little evidence of the real meaning behind Christmas..really it should be relabelled Christ missed.`Do they they know its Christmas?` how can they theyre either Buddhists or practising capitalists.
Another thing thats also done to excess over here is the amount of Christmas illuminations..seems theres a competition to put on a display akin to a supernova.The main throughfares of Nagoya are literally draped with lights enough Im sure to induce an epileptic fit if one is susceptible to strobe lights.As well as this visual assault theres also the audio assault on ones ears as Christmas carols are blasted out 24/7 by all manner of shops and public institutions.
Well having spent the last month with my right leg encased in plaster I was finally relieved to have it removed yesterday..Friday.I still have to use crutches for the next 4 weeks tho as I undergo rehabilation.This involvess twice weekly visits to the hospital where a burly physio-therapist manipulates my ankle.I can move it and bend it 10degrees but need to improve that to 25degrees.Theres still a lot of swelling and bruising and the ankle is this fashionable purple-yellow color.All credit to my physio tho Hiroshi (for thats his name )speaks a clipped aplogetic English and has fingers of steel nor did he budge once as he took my withered limb and began to twist and bend it trying I think to encourage the blood flow and circulation into the gnarled limb..not a job I'd want to do.So far Ive been impressed by the professional manner and care of the medical staff here particularly considering Im a foreigner who speaks not a jot of Japanese and yet they are the ones apologising ...kinda humbling.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Amo,Amas,A marmot...Yours sincerely wasting away.Saturday 11December 2004

Vancouver Island Marmot....I first became aware of the plight of this endangered animal in 2001.Marmots are the largest members of the squirrel family and can grow as big as your average housecat.The V.I marmot has chocolate brown fur with contrasting white patches.They live in small colonies underground and hibernate in their burrows 7 months of the year from September to May.Since being listed as 'endangered' in 1980 their numbers have fallen dramatically due to a number of factors including clearcut felling,increased predators such as wolves and weather fluctuations.Currently there are approximately 30-35 V.I marmots in the wild and the captive population in four breeding centres stands at around 93.For more info check out the Marmot Recovery Foundation website at where you can find out much more including how to adopt your own marmot and buy a stuffed marmot soft toy among other things.My own stuffed marmot Bob has his own frequent flier card and has racked up mileage points to England,Italy and more recently Prague.He`s also toured round Japan rating Kyoto as his favorite place mainly due to the food..Bob being vegetarian liked the variety of greens served there.
Yours Sincerely Wasting Away
Still getting about on crutches..incidentally its a great way to build up your upper body particulary your arms and lose weight at the same time...cant remember having such a flat taut stomach for a long time,maybe due to the lack of junk food and effort it takes to get to and from work..dont know if its my ribs sticking out or the emergence of a six-pack ...I got a second cast last Friday and have to return to the hospital again this Friday to see how things are healing.The second cast was necessary as the first had become somewhat loose due to the fact my leg has shrunk..that became apparent when the first cast was removed revealing a swollen bruised ankle and heel area and according to the doctor in his broken English `the ugliest toes he had ever seen` .The second cast is obviously tighter and has put more pressure on the heel in an effort to manipulate the heel bones back into their correct position.I just hope it doesnt come to surgery as its already cost me literally an arm and a leg.I would love to get rid of the cast and crutches prior to Christmas .
One good by-product of this whole sorry affair is the amount of Japanese Ive had to learn..the words for first second and fifth floor i now know and can pronounce like a local(of course Im buggered if the lift stops on the third or fourth floor!!).Ive also figured out that the Japanese word for xray is `rentagin` the surname of the inventor one Wilhelm Rentagin of the 1890s if my googling is accurate.The Japanese for plaster cast is `gyps` a shortened form of the word gypsum or plaster in English..logical if I could just get my head round kanji Id be set....

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Social Cripple/ Enjoy Every Sandwich Saturday December 4 2004

Having broken my heel in a freak accident in Prague on November 12th I`ve had to struggle manfully on crutches since that ill fated(ill-footed) day.
One advantage of being unable to walk and being confined to a wheel chair is the ease with which one can pass through security checks and long lines of fellow passengers at various international airport terminals.Apart from the uncomfortable envious glares and the odd overzealous guard feeling under the seat for the 2 kilos of semtex and 5 kilos of drugs I would recommend this mode of transport.
As for crutches well thats another story.The old wooden pair I was outfitted with at Yogoto Hospital here in Nagoya have little in the way of padding and cut deeply into my tender armpits.It took a week or so before they toughened up to bear the weight of my frail atrophying body.Other joints and muscles also protested at being employed to lug me around.
I received a 30 minute hands-on lesson in crutches use from a rehabilitation nurse Hironori who thankfully possesessed more patience than English vocabulary.I practiced negotiating going up and down a set of stairs and other obstacles which require 2 different techniques and the concentration of a fighter pilot or F1 driver to avoid smacking into a wall or falling flat on ones face.
I didnt realise how valuable this lesson would be until 2 days later when I had to return to work.I have to hobble through 3 subway stations and 1 JR train staion on my way to and from work.Only 2 of these public utilities have lifts so each day Im confronted with a considerable mental and physical hurdle.
I must say the subway and train staff and the general public are very caring and tolerant as I clatter my way through the crowded commuter masses.My one bete noir are the old Japanese ladies who push past me or try to board the carriage as Im getting off or bear down on me in a crouched heads down position refusing to change paths forcing me to take evasive action,curse, stop completely or all three simultaneously.They seem totally indifferent to vacating the priority seating set aside for the less mobile or child-bearing members of society.If Japan is to become completely barrier free it should install more lifts and ramps at public facilities and cull or eradicate all old ladies from society.
These past few weeks have been an eye-opener in the sense that I never realised how much a burden lack of mobility and a physical impairment can be on the quality and enjoyment of your life.Even simple things I took for granted such as posting a letter,shopping or showering become onerous and exhausting.As for the outlook yesterday Friday December 4 I had the old cast removed and replaced by a newer one that is pushing (hopefully) my heel back into place.I`ll know more on December 17.
Enjoy Every Sandwich
To cheer myself up I bought a newly released cd (the title is above ).Its a collection of Warren Zevon songs sang by various artists.Its actually pretty mediocre with only a few reasonable contributions from Bruce Springsteen"My Rides Here" The WallFlowers"Lawyers,Guns and Money" and Adam Sandlers rendition of "Werewolves of London".I wouldnt recommend it, you`d be better spending your money on some of Zevons own earlier cds.Theres a string instrumental bonus track15 which is somewhat sombre to round the cd off but its hardly an essential purchase.