Flag Books

I am enough intrigued by flag books to have made several of them, but have yet to do the one that interests me the most: where the image coherently stretches from one flag to the next. Maybe that will be my next project, after two or three others I already have in mind.  So this is the most recent flag book completed several years ago.

Dead fish book 1

It is the fore runner of a series of “Dead Fish” books I will talk about later.

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One of the first flag books I made used images from Japan. For the flags, I removed the background from photos I took at a parade in Kyoto, Japan, in 2007. Then I made backs for each image; not great, but passable. They look like paper dolls, or almost like baseball cards. From an atlas printed in Japan that I bought for a dollar I used pages to make the covers.
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The other book was for a birthday gift.  The cover looks like this:
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The outside is a light card stock with an embossed metallic finish. Inside endpapers are tie die paper I made in the book workshop. You can see the accordion at the bottom; the fold is only about half an inch. It should have been more like one and a quarter inches. Some of the words I put on the flags don’t show up unless you move them. Below are several of the flag books, and other books made in a workshop.

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Travel Diaries

From 2007 to 2014 I created four books about travel in Japan and China. Day to day information appears as it happened earlier in this blog. Here I will discuss the books and how I created them.  I collected all of the emails concerning the trips, all of the blog posts and most of my photos. All pages are printed on Epson Matte Presentation paper, which produces vibrant color and excellent definition.  All four books use Japanese stab binding or some variant — a mistake. Stab binding is best used on thin books with soft covers. These are an inch or more in thickness and have heavy board covers. I was going for the ‘Japanese’ look and didn’t consider utility.

For the first one from Japan in 2007, I brought back a small package of silk scraps that I cut up and machine embroidered on Japanese Washi paper. The glued on bone bead embellishments are from my collection of beads and probably come from India.

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The second book is from Japan 2008. Using silk from an Obi I first made a photo transfer and then hand embroidered the tree with French knots.

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I’d like to say ‘never again’ to that, but I’m working on binding a fifth book with the title in French knots. I’ve been working on it, off and on, since 2013. The book block is finished–it may never get bound.

I also went to China for a month in 2008 and spent even longer thinking about the binding for this book. I began with a large piece of embroidered red silk. While China clearly has it’s elegant aspects my experience was much more concerned with grit and pollution. Finally I cut up the now dirty, gritty bag I had carried all month, used another photo transfer, a bit of the red silk, hand embroidery–not French knots and embellishments from my collection.

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China 2008

The fourth book, from a trip to Japan in 2013, is structurally similar to the other three, but instead of the stab binding I used three brass screw posts, fittingly called Chicago posts. The book is thicker than the others and the posts provide a stronger binding.

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The paper covering the boards has tiny leaves embedded; the title was printed directly onto the paper. The blue border is book cloth, which covers several mistakes I made during my initial attempt at binding.

First adventure alone

I must admit I didn’t prepare for this trip the way I do for Japan. But I made up my mind to go about 10 days before and it took me three days to decide on a flight. So, relying on Yona, the fact that I’ve been here before and that I can read Hebrew, albeit slowly and painfully, I came without doing any planning. Not good.
Robin asked me to go to an exhibit in Haifa and Yona was busy with a grandchild so, complete with detailed instructions from her, I got on the bus and went to Haifa. I have spent a lot of time in Haifa but most of it was 45 or 50 years ago. I had just faint twinges of memory. And I neglected to carefully examine the notice, in Hebrew, about the exhibit.
Two buses and I was exactly at the place I needed to be. No one knew anything about it–not in English and not in Hebrew. No exhibit. Later we found out it won’t open until Sunday; maybe I’ll go back on Monday.
Plan B was a museum of Japanese Art–the only one in the Middle East and more or less walking distance. Of course that was on my list. The main exhibit was snow prints, which I could thoroughly enjoy in this land of sunshine. And they had Chushingura pictures by an artist I never heard of. I suspect this is just a spelling difference but I haven’t had a chance to look him up. If I could afford to collect Japanese prints, these are what I would get. This exhibit made me very happy.
Finally, tired and hungry, I stood in a bus stop and a taxi read my mind and pulled up. We had a good discussion about lunch places and he took me down to the port and I had lunch overlooking the Mediterranean.
Lunch is the big meal here; generally much more than I want to eat. It began with 15 small dishes, almost like salads: hummus, tahina, carrots with cumin, beets, pickled cabbage, egg salad, macaroni salad, some yummy but unidentified veggies and pita with butter and garlic. I never ordered an entree, and to hell with the diet.
Then I got on the wrong bus and had an unexpected tour of Haifa, finally getting back to Yona’s after the flaming red ball of the sun sank into the sea.

No communication

View of Chicago River from my hotel room

View of Chicago River from my hotel room

It has been a busy month; I just haven’t felt like writing. I’m waiting for that connection between my brain and the computer that Eli says will come, so my hands won’t be involved and the transfer will be instantaneous. Raja and daughters, on their way east to visit battlefields, stopped here last week; probably the best days all month. Two excellent Osher classes occupied my Wednesdays: “Memoir writing,” which I will probably never do but gave a lot of thought, and “The Written Word: The Vanishing Journalist” a kind of oral memoir of a retired journalist. Also took a movement class, Dalcroze Eurhythmics, four sessions at CMU. I can’t explain it, but it was fun.

My sister-in-law died of lung cancer. She looked awful when I saw her last month in Chicago, so I wasn’t surprised. Worse, has been watching my friend of some 50 years. who fell and is having a difficult recovery. Talking to her long distance is more troubling than visiting her. I will see her again in September when I return on my way to Door County.

I finally went to the doctor about my arthritic knees. They took x-rays then gave me a cortisone shot in each knee. I am happy to report I am now walking without pain and have started exercising again. That’s great. I am going to New York early next month and it would have been terrible if I couldn’t walk there.

Funny thing about blog writing. I really sat down to write about books and almost forgot after turning out the previous paragraphs. I’ve read several books this month, some I wanted to read, another forced on me from my funky book club. The best was The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng, about the only survivor of a Japanese work camp in Malaysia who feels compelled to make a Japanese garden in memory of her sister. Along with the great story and great characters are wonderfully clear and erudite explanations about Japanese gardens and a clear exposition of both the good and the terrifying in the Japanese character. Having fallen in love with some aspects of Japanese culture I often have trouble looking at their extremes of cruelty, xenophobia and kitsch. I have to keep remembering most of us are guilty of the terrible stuff, but few of us achieve the sublime.

April 23: Last day

April 23

On the train to Tokyo, this time on the Nozomi Super Express. It makes only 3 stops in the 2.5 hour trip. I am sad about leaving. I don’t think there is anything more I want to do here, but I’ve enjoyed the challenge and I’m going back to too soft a life. Have to figure out more ways of making life difficult.

At the hotel in Kyoto they asked if I would return next year. I agreed, but I think the answer is no, at my age you never know what new aggravation each year will bring and not alone, not unless Eli or Charna will come with me.

I met a woman at the hotel who said she was a journalist. Maybe she freelances, I have doubts about what she really does. But the story she should write is about the hotel. It is clearly a part of the Kyoto community and also gives you, if you stay any length of time, a sense of belonging as well. The women at the front desk all knew me and wanted to know what I was doing each day. And everyone was always helpful. There were at least three concerts in the lobby, mostly attended by people from the neighborhood, although hotel guests were always invited. One of the meeting rooms became a bar each Thursday night and again was open to hotel guests and the community. And there were free Japanese lessons two evenings a week. I attended and didn’t learn much language but was able to get lots of questions answered. I am now friends on Facebook with the teacher, which is great.

Someone, I think Alice, asked about crowds here. People are generally quiet. Only very small children and teenagers seem to make any noise. There isn’t even much horn blowing. Traffic noises are only engines, tires and occasional emergency vehicles. People are encouraged not to talk on their phones in public and to keep them on vibrate. On the shinkansen there are rules about not letting the phone ring and going to the end of the cars to talk. That said, this isn’t a quiet place. When you walk on a quiet street in a residential neighborhood, as I did when I visited Tojiin, you notice the silence. There are constant recorded or mechanical noises. Public toilets and subway entrances announce their presence with a small dinging noise. Streets with stoplights tell you when to walk: one direction chirps, the other ding dongs. Buses and subways have constant recorded monologues, often in several languages, about the next stop, what you can do there such as transferring, what attractions are there, warnings about the doors closing, and on trains, which side the doors will open on. I almost have the Japanese memorized.

The stops on the shinkansen are announced with a little musical riff then the announcement is made in two languages. On the trains in Kyushu announcements were made in Japanese, Chinese, Korean and English.

Crowds at the two markets I attended were difficult, but would not have been if I moved a little faster. Crowds in train and subway stations are more difficult but they come in waves and I generally was able to wait until they are gone.

I promised to tell you about my Buddhist amulet. Before dinner at the temple on Koyasan a monk came and put bracelets on our arms. The bracelet is supposed to ease our way through difficulties. Perhaps it works. I am intrigued because of its construction. It is beautifully made of multicolored cords and has three knots and no apparent beginning or end. There is something on the internet about Buddhist endless knots, which seem to be the same as Celtic endless knots. Of course, you can do things with drawings you can’t do with reality. When I get home I’ll do a more extensive search.

I shot more than 2000 pictures, maybe more than 2500. Most of those are garden pictures. I haven’t done many street pictures; too many of their streets look just like ours. I’m afraid I will disappoint you, Mage. Pictures of shops, funky architecture and strange things some women wear on their feet are subjects I didn’t take, although some of it was tempting. And the spiky white thing around the tree stump you asked about indicates the stump, or more often a living tree or rock, is sacred. Japanese believe in kami, sacred spirits, thousands of them that can live anywhere, but often in those trees or rocks. I am ready to go along with them; especially on kami that live in trees.

April 22: Last day in Kyoto

This morning I found the following poem on my Facebook page, posted by Ukiyo-e & sumi-e, which usually posts Japanese paintings and woodblock prints. Tomorrow morning I leave Kyoto and travel on to Pittsburgh.
“How many mountains, how many rivers
Are still to be crossed before I gain
The land where loneliness comes to an end?
Today, as ever, I travel on.” – Wakayama Bokusui (1885-1928).
[Trans. by Miyamori Asataro. From “Hiroshigue’s Tokaido in Prints and Poetry”, 1957).

I seriously considered returning to Samboin, the garden where I couldn’t photograph, but was daunted by the thought of climbing those two terrible steps where I needed so much help. I wandered back to the shopping area stopping at a shop that sold lovely bamboo objects, several fabric shops and another paper store where I bought a small roll of paper, about 10 inches high and 5 yards long. Maybe I can make a book with it. There was all kinds of wonderful paper, but again, nothing that tempted me to struggle getting it home.

Spent the entire day walking around, again more walking than I wanted to do. Tomorrow I’ll be on the train most of the day, so I can rest then.

I bought a few other small gifts. I find it difficult to bring back souvenirs. So-called traditional Japanese crafts are too expensive; the cheaper stuff is terrible junk. There isn’t much here you can’t buy at home.

The last place I wandered into was a shop that sold canes, an amazing range of canes from colorful sticks with ordinary handles and fancy handles with plain sticks, including metal animal  heads, handles and sticks with lots of bling, and a really great one with a light on the handle. If it wasn’t 30000 yen, I would have bought it on the spot. I’ve been using Arvin’s cane and I enjoy the fact it was his and I can use it. The proprietor of the shop told me it was a tall man’s cane. Arvin was 6 feet. I didn’t know canes came in so many different sizes.

I am sad to leave. I have enjoyed the entire six weeks. But I will be happy to see my family and friends.

April 21: Another flea market and window shopping

I have reached the end of my garden viewing. I’m sure there is something I am missing, but it is becoming too difficult to find. The gardens I haven’t seen require more travel time and much more walking. So, today and tomorrow, my last day in Kyoto, will be shopping days.

I started back at Toji Temple for Kobo-san, the mother of all flea markets. It was hugely crowded with people just pouring in. I’ve been at markets at Toji before but I don’t think I have ever seen so many vendors. There were produce stands, food stalls with places to sit while the food cooked, and even a flower and plant market in addition to all the antiques, kimonos, clothing, bags and lots of other stuff. The food intrigued me; many are things I can’t identify and would love to know about.

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When I finally had enough (I never bought anything) I went to the main Kyoto shopping area to visit paper stores. Much as I love Japanese papers (washi) nothing intrigued me enough to cope with getting it home. The sheets are usually about a square meter, which means carrying a tall roll and making sure it doesn’t get bent. I did it in 2007, but the papers aren’t as interesting this year and I am not prepared to deal with it. I will just have to bind my books with the stash I have at home.