Thursday, January 13, 2011

A man came upon him...

It all began when I wanted to see the Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto, one of the richest collections of Japanese blocks prints. Getting there was relatively easy. “Just a 40 minutes bus ride from here,” I was told at the local tourist information office. What the pretty lady failed to mention was that at the end of those 40 minutes I would be out in the fields. Yes, because the JUM is a very large building surrounded by fields and rice pads. Ah, she also forgot to mention that there were no buses to come back after 2 pm and that the closest train station was several km away from the museum, past a national road, three graves, several rice-pads, and that in no possible way an unprepared gaijin could have found it.
I copied the map the cashier of the museum had showed me, and started the adventure. Like in most homemade maps proportions were not respected, and like in most Japanese maps the North was not marked. I make it past the national road, and I’m all genki and optimistic. Past the second grave I’m thinking that maybe I should come back and ask for help. At the third grave I know I’m lost, because what I thought were streets on the “map” were not other than thin demarcation paths separating rice-pads and there were many more than what the map showed. In most homemade maps out here not every street or alley is recorded, so when you count the blocks there is always something off. This map was not different… The country road I had followed ended a few meters past the third grave, and there wasn’t anyone in sight. And as I was laughing and laughing on the verge of crying, thinking I had to walk all the way back or try to reach one of the houses I could see in the distance, the there she was, a young woman walking in my direction.
My euphoria was immediately killed by the thought that if she was like all girls I know from Sicily or the US not only she would have not answered my request of help, but she would have also steered away from me, male, unknown, foreigner, virtually dangerous. And as she was walking next to me, I thought “it’s now or never” and I dared: “I’m lost can you show me the way to the train station?” And she responded, with spontaneity: “Follow me on the paths between the rice-pads.” Now “path between the rice-pads” in Japanese is aze and in that very moment I considered myself so happy I had stumbled into that word in the dictionary a couple of days earlier, so blessed. I was not alone, and I had not been alone either. Because stumbling into the word aze in the dictionary earlier that week, had not been a random thing. Reading it, remembering its meaning and seeing the kanji so vividly in my mind’s eye in that surreal circumstance, was all part of a larger plan.
My mind went through all the possible reasons why a Sicilian girl would have rejected my request to help in an identical circumstance, and stopped swirling only in front of the question: what kind of people are these still capable of such innocent act as trusting a stranger to follow them in an area when no one is around?
I followed my guide between the rice-pads, trotting in her footsteps, breathing in the fresh air of those fields.