The Artist's Muse Art Blog
Artist Date: Lost in the translation. I am in Yokosuka, Japan. When I arrive the air is steamy with humidity -- much more intense than the steam I am used to in New England. There is something psychologically jarring about looking down a street, decorated with beautiful, colorful signs and not being able to read any of them. Not even the characters are recognizable. I am surrounded by the conversation of people walking in the streets who are speaking a language that I don't recognize. No "oui madam," no "como estas?" and no "danke schen," to be heard. Even the attempts that are made to speak in English are barely recognizable. The language is music, it rolls of their tongues with such confidence and passion. It makes me wish all the more that I knew what they were saying. I approach the sidewalk crossing. There are no cars in sight yet everyone waits patiently for the green pedestrian sign to light up to give the signal that they can step off the curb into the street. I watch in disbelief. There is no pretending that I am in Boston at this point. Bostonians make j-walking an art form. I take a photograph of them all waiting on the curb for the little green man. At 5 feet 2, 120 pounds, I feel like an alien or perhaps more like Godzilla- woman. The tiny, well coiffed women that surround me are both delicate and strong. They dress impeccably and seem comfortable in their tiny jeans, miniature shoes and beautiful, loose-fitting blouses.
When I return to my room with a tuna bagel and a cup of hot tea from the Starbucks I have found around the corner from the Central Hotel, I feel just as out of place. I am not yet ready to brave the Japanese restaurants or the breakfast offered in the hotel lobby. I realize this is cowardly, but I know if I give myself a few days to adjust I will join the buffet line. For now, comfort is most important. Then I return safely to room eight thirty-seven. I peel back the lid of my tea to allow it to cool and turn on the tap to fill the abbreviated bathtub in the closet sized lavatory. I am keenly aware that my single dormitory room in Johnson House at UMASS (1982) was slightly larger. It didn't have a bathtub though. I squeeze myself into the deep tub and sip my tea before going to work at the Yokosuka Museum. At the Museum there are few English speaking people, two Americans and three German curators. It is a relief to have a conversation that extends beyond, "hello," goodbye," and "thank you." I have the best meal of my excursion in the café: bamboo, tuna and pasta while watching two small Japanese children at the next table in amusement. They drink from their sippy cups while their mothers simultaneously tend to them and remain engrossed in deep conversation. The girl has a stickly little ponytail that juts straight up from the top of her head and cascades down like a Parisian fountain.
At the end of the day a few of us sneak down to the shore in front of the museum while we wait for our taxi to arrive. The gray sand is littered with weathered sea glass. It is my most nostalgic pastime, collecting this glass. When I was a child, my mother would challenge all seven of us to find a royal blue or red piece of glass (they were very rare). We would spend hours combing the beach in search of these coveted colors. On a few occasions we would find them and she would give us five dollars. I remember grappling with the tough decision of whether to give up the beautiful glass for the money. Sometimes the glass won out. This day in history, on the beach at Yokosuka, Japan I find both a red piece and a royal blue one! I also pick up many lovely pieces of aqua colored glass that I have not seen before. This makes my day, and quite possibly my trip. My artist self is renewed. Color renews her. Unexpected treasures renew her. Playing in the sand while everyone else thinks it silly, renews her.
Photo credit: Julia Courtney Tokyo Bay from the Yokosuka Museum