Saturday, October 16, 2010

Then Noach built an altar to the Lord.

The day had started with a glorious morning, crowned by the Dai-Butsu’s triumphant splendor. It did not matter if now thick clouds were riding the skies, as the sun had shined uninterruptedly on my first day of vacation. Shortly past 3:30 pm a light drizzle reminded me I had to leave Nara and be back to Kyoto before Shabbat. In a couple of hours it would have been Shabbat Noach, of course it was supposed to rain.

It had been another early day as I wanted to get the most out of it. Arriving at Nara I had rented a bike and had biked my way around the usual tourist attractions. At the Dai-Butsu I had one of those experiences that make living in Japan unique.

Among the deers and the equally annoying loud Chinese tourists, a swarm of sweet third graders from Kyoto approached me. Tiny, cute, wearing yellow hats and off-white shirts, each holding a pencil and a notebook. They introduced themselves with sounds that sounded familiar but I could not really make out. They had to repeat the introductory sentence more than once before I could understand it: “Good morning. We are studying English in school. May we ask you some questions?” I accepted. “Where do you come from?” “I come from Italy.” One of them asked the others in Japanese: And how can he speak English? A few second of perplexity on my interviewer’s side and then the questions started again: “Where do you live?” “I live in Tokyo.” My interviewer lowered her notebook and looked at me: is the gaijin making fun of me? I repeated my answer: “Yes, I live in Tokyo. Where do you live?” They were not interested in taking questions from me. “Do you like Japan?” “Yes, I like Japan very much.” It seemed to me that my interviewer did not understand the ‘very much’ part, so I repeated my answer in Japanese. They wrote it down, but then they looked at one another, with eyes wide open: how on earth does the gaijin speak Japanese?!?! Their teacher encouraged them to continue the interview. “Do you like sushi?” “I like sushi. I eat sushi every day.” They did not understand the second part of my response, which I again said in Japanese. They giggled: no one eats sushi every day, only gaijin do. “What is your name?” That was the final question. At that point they gave me a little present: a bag with three origami bookmarks and asked if we could take a picture together. Each one of them took a picture of the group and me using old-fashioned disposable cameras. Also in this there was something sweet and innocent: they were not using some newfangled, electronic camera, but just a simple, green disposable Fuji, cost 700 Yen at any of the stalls along the way. That’s all 3rd graders need. I bet they don’t own cell-phones either. From the way they were holding their cameras I am sure no pictures came out. We kept crossing paths during the tour of the Dai-Butsu and every time they waved at me, smiling, giggling, covering their little mouths while whispering something to each other.

When I arrived at Kyoto station heavy rain was coming down, really as if the cataracts of heaven had open over Japan. On my way to the bus that would take me to the monastery where I was lodging I stopped at a Buddhist temple to take a few pictures of the pouring rain. One of which is at the beginning of this post (I would like to know how to move it down here)

It rained until 5 pm on Shabbat, which meant I couldn’t even go out for a stroll, but I had to stay in my ark, the monk-cell. What I originally thought would be a wasted day turned out to be the most relaxing day of my life. No worries, no commitments, no rush. Just a small Chumash Koren, a book by Daisetz Suzuki and a text about Japanese architecture. In front of my cell there was a small, quiet, green patio, with a roof under which I could sit and read. From time to time the echo of chants from any of the halls of the temple would reach my ears, making me once again wonder with gratitude at where life has taken me.

At motsa’e Shabbat after it had stopped raining, as I was biking in a quiet Kyoto enveloped in a cloud of incense, I couldn’t help but smile thinking about the smell of the sacrifice Noach offered after the flood.

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