Casa

I do think of home, of course. Every day. It’s almost like one of those things you do out of habit, day after day, like brushing your teeth before bed. Before you know it, you are facing the mirror with a brush in your mouth and that eucalyptus taste that depending on what toothpaste you are using leaves your mouth so fresh that breathing becomes an extremely intense sensorial experience.

Thinking of home works more or less in the same way but without the eucalyptus taste. It also happens on a less rigid schedule and on different levels. Sometimes it’s triggered by something as simple and modern as a message from a relative or a friend, and sometimes it works in a more old-fashioned way. Last week, for example, without the intervention of any kind of state-of-the-art technology, I found myself cutting a tomato in half for my salad and remembering how when I was a kid my father would let out a shriek of pain every time we cut one, as if the poor tomato was being murdered. And this, in turn, made me remember how much I hated salads as a kid – even with the so amusing systematic murder of vegetables during their preparation. And I also remembered how once, having refused to eat my salad for dinner and gone to bed on an empty stomach, I was served the same salad for breakfast instead of my usual and more appetizing cereal. Ironically, what at that time seemed like a disproportionately cruel punishment to me, i.e., eating salad for breakfast, is actually a widespread habit in Japan.

And my train of thought didn’t stop there. Sometimes memories crush you with the violence and suddenness of an avalanche and there isn’t much you can do to avoid it. The hate towards the same salads I would now kill to have for dinner every day reminded me of how I also used to truly hate Sunday hikes. At home, Sundays smelled of mountains, of pine trees, of dogs –when we had one and even when we didn’t– and somehow they also smelled of the backseat’s seatbelt, a kind of nauseating stench that made me feel sick before even driving out of the garage. By the end of the day, though, everything was covered by the smell of forest and pinecone fights. Curiously enough, it was that same smell that saved me from a sequence of particularly strong avalanches that occur when I happen to be far from home during five very specific days of the year and that were threatening to bury me in homesickness… and frustration for the slow advances in the field of teleportation.

The mind is fast and can cover the distance home in less than a second. Meanwhile, it would take my body hours if not days to get all the way there, plus the intervention of an aircraft and the collaboration of more than half my monthly income. But last weekend I found a shortcut home, and it was all thanks to a decision that would have horrified the hike-hater six-year-old me. I got to the nearest middle of nowhere, surrounded myself with the forest and the smell of fallen pine needles, resin and wood and suddenly I wasn’t in Japan anymore but in a place that could as well be a few kilometers away from home.

And yes, I did find some Buddha statues right next to a lake that made me return to reality, but hey, being back to Japan feels great after having spent a while home.

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És clar que hi penso, en casa meva. Cada dia. És una d’aquelles accions que es fan per inèrcia, dia si dia també, com ara rentar-se les dents abans d’anar a dormir. Abans no te n’adones estàs palplantat davant del mirall, amb un raspall a la boca i aquell gust d’eucaliptus que depenent del dentífric et deixa una frescor de boca tal que respirar es converteix en una experiència sensorial extremadament intensa.

Pensar en casa meva funciona si fa no fa de la mateixa manera però sense el gust d’eucaliptus, amb un horari molt menys definit i en diferents nivells. A vegades el desencadenant és tan simple i modern com un missatge d’un familiar o amic, i a vegades funciona més a l’antiga. La setmana passada, sense la intervenció de cap artefacte de la tecnologia avantguardista, em vaig trobar tallant un tomàquet per una amanida i recordant com quan era petita el meu pare feia un crit de dolor cada cop que en tallàvem un, com si l’estiguéssim matant. I això em va portar a pensar com havia arribat a odiar les amanides quan era petita – tot i la diversió que comportava  l’assassinat sistemàtic de verdures durant el procés de preparació. I també vaig recordar com una vegada, havent-me negat a menjar-ne per sopar i havent anant a dormir amb l’estómac buit, em van servir un plat d’amanida per esmorzar enlloc dels meu bol de cereals habitual i, francament, més apetitós. Ironies de la vida, el que en aquell dia em va semblar un càstig d’una crueltat desmesurada és un costum molt estès al Japó. Menjar amanida per esmorzar, vull dir.

I la cadena de pensaments no es va aturar pas aquí. A  vegades els records et cauen al damunt amb la violència inesperada d’una allau, i poca cosa pots fer per evitar-ho. El meu odi per unes amanides que ara mataria per tornar a menjar cada dia em va portar a pensar en com també havia odiat les excursions de diumenge amb tota la meva ànima. Els diumenges a casa meva feien olor de pinassa, de gos –quan teníem gos i quan no en teníem–  i, d’alguna manera, també feien olor del seient de darrere del cotxe i del cinturó de seguretat. Una mena de flaire nauseabunda que em feia marejar abans i tot d’haver sortit del garatge. Però per sort l’olor predominant al final del dia era la de bosc, i pins i guerres de pinyes. Curiosament, va ser aquesta olor mateixa que em va salvar del reguitzell d’allaus particularment intenses que s’esdevenen quan sóc lluny de casa durant cinc dies de l’any molt puntuals i que m’estaven soterrant en la nostàlgia… i en la frustració pel lent desenvolupament de la teletransportació.

La ment és molt ràpida i pot recórrer la distància fins a casa en menys d’un segon, mentre que al meu cos li costaria hores, la intervenció d’una aeronau i més de la meitat dels yens del meu sou mensual. Però el cap de setmana passat vaig trobar-hi una drecera, i tot va ser gràcies a una decisió que hagués horroritzat el meu jo de sis anys tan poc entusiasta de les excursions. Em vaig desplaçar fins al mig del no-res més pròxim, em vaig envoltar de bosc i de l’olor que fa de pinassa, resina i fusta, i de cop ja no era al Japó sinó a un lloc que podria ben bé ser a uns quants revolts en cotxe de casa meva.

I sí, al final unes quantes estàtues de budes al costat d’un llac em van fer tornar a la realitat, però ben bonic que és tornar al Japó després d’haver passat una estoneta a casa.

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Deceitful months, nice mornings

From my broad experience in northern climes I can safely say that the worst snowfalls aren’t in December, January or even February. They are always in March.

March is a deceitful month, never trust it. Some days it tricks you into believing that it’s time to bury away your winter jacket, your boots and thick sweaters deep into your closet, and the next thing you know it’s snowing as it hasn’t snowed during the whole winter, which effectively ruins the spring plans you were so excited about.   

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Octopuses and other kinds of nonsense

If you look at things close enough they all become absurd. Even the word absurd is absurd. Repeat it ten, fifteen, twenty times and it will stop making any sense. And this happens to every single word, they don’t need to mean anything special or be any difficult, sophisticated, scientific or philosophical. If you repeat them long enough, they will all start to sound strange and you’ll find yourself wondering, for example, who came up with the name octopus for octopuses. Or with eating them, for that matter. However it may be, it has been decided that the letters o,c,t,o,p,u,s all nicely lined up like this are short for “a sea creature having a soft, oval body and eight tentacles with suckers on them.” And everyone agrees. You won’t ever realize how arbitrary it is that they’re called like this unless you isolate this seven letters in your head and repeat them twenty times.

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Primates

I sit on the edge, steam coming out of the water. It’s still cold but the sunlight starts to feel warmer, which means I’ll soon be able to get rid of my winter coat. Finally! Sunnier, nicer weather. And more food. For now, I’m thankful for the hot springs that soak both our valley and our bodies. Oh, and for the big hairless monkey who comes feed us every now and then.

I get ready for the first bath of the day. In the water there’s only another one of us, old like me, enjoying the liquid warmth, eyes closed. Silence. At this time of the day it’s still quiet, they aren’t here yet. I move my face closer to the surface, and a pair of round brown eyes stare at me from inside. I shoo them away stirring the water with my hand. Splash, splash. But I take it easy. I’m very old and in no rush. When I finally make up my mind, I don’t throw myself into the water like the young ones do, diving and splashing around. It’s bad for me to say so, but years do give you a sort of calm elegance.

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Tokyo vol. I

When I was around five or six years old, I was taught that when Santa Claus asks you if you’ve been good the best answer isn’t yes or even no. You should say: It’s all relative. It’s not only more accurate than any of the other answers, but you can also apply it in all kinds of situations in life.

Is my hometown a big town or a small city? It depends on how you look at it. Or from where. One day, probably before I discovered the relativity of life, I was standing on top of the busiest mountain in my region, proudly gazing at my sixteen-thousand-people metropolis. My cousins, who came from the capital city and were standing right behind me, found it amusing and quickly explained to me that even the district of Gracia in Barcelona was bigger than my little town. I was shocked by those news. “There ARE big cities in the world!”, I thought.

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The foreigner who wanted to blend in

The man had arrived in that new place where he knew no one and no one knew him. The date on his visa put a limit to his stay, but that didn’t mean much. How long would he stay? Who knows. Would he like it there? Another mystery. He also didn’t know that much about his new fellow citizens or even about the city he was going to live in, apart from having a very general idea. But if he already knew everything there was to know, what would be the point of going in the first place? He arrived there willing to learn everything from zero, to observe it all, to take notes and put everything to practice while hidden in the crowds.

He hadn’t realized in the airport. Nor had he in the hostel where he spent the first night. But he was tired, and novelty is too dazzling. It wasn’t until the first time he ventured outside, camera in hand and mental notepad ready, that the suspicion began to grow.

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Living on the floor and Japan’s greatest invention

Living ten thousand kilometers away from the country where you were born and raised and where you lived for most of your life, makes you realize there are a lot of things you took for granted which (surprise!) are not the same everywhere. And sometimes you miss them a little. Off the top of my head I can think of three:

  • The weather forecast of the local weatherman (and quite the celebrity at home), Tomàs Molina.
  • Central heating.
  • Chairs, tables, beds and any other kind of furniture which isn’t at floor level.

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