THE sound of all the people up above on the wooden pagoda sounds like distant thunder claps in the fading light. It’s not even 5:30 and I can barely make out the color in the leaves anymore. If I close my eyes and focus on the thunder and the ancient wooden beams holding it all up and the great golden Buddha I forget for a second that I’m walking. I don’t feel my feet strike the stone anymore. I’m up in the clouds by the half full moon. With the sound of the fountain comes the rain I cannot feel. I can only hear it above Kyoto: up in the red yellow hills where magic still plays funny games at this hour. Suddenly the throngs of people are all gone.
That’s what happens when you stop to think for a second. The elders know. I see them wishing away all these busy bodies. Commanding a peace in their eyes. Or maybe they’re just tired. I’ll probably never know the feeling, thank god. Thank god for all this beauty in the world, despite everything.
I run up the stairs because I’m not just ready to go yet. I have to fly by the incense one more time. I want the scented smoke in my eyes, and I’ll carry it with me back down the hill into the old city.
The pagodas are lit up in the darkness now, a brilliant red-orange, and a bold spotlight reaches out into the valley towards Kyoto Tower. A hollow old gong rings out, cutting through the shuffling of feet and small talk. Someone hands the old monk a bottle of hot sake after he swings the old log into the bell for the fifth time and then twice at the end for good measure. They really make him work for it.
After a sukiyaki hot pot dinner that we thoroughly botched (what can I say, it was my first time), I put Mom to bed and drift out for an evening nightcap, drifting right into a bar around the corner called the Rocking chair. They sat me at the bar. All the rocking chairs were occupied, and honestly I was just happy to get in. When I got there I was met by a couple waiting to get in and a sign hanging on the street entrance that said, “Sorry, we are full,” thankfully in English. The wait wasn’t long though. And at the bar on either side of me were worn out Japanese men puffing big puffs from cigars. I love this place. When I lean back, looking left, by the window overlooking the small garden, is a man in a very sturdy-looking rocking chair; to the right, down three stair there’s a fireplace on the wall of the sitting room with a rocking chair on either side.
It’s easily the best drink I’ve had in a long, long time; Japanese whiskey, honey, port wine, bitters.
I love Japanese drinking culture. They always give you some snacks. In Osaka at the Bible Club it was two small cut pieces of short cake. Tonight, delicious rice crackers, some I’m familiar with, others I am not. For good measure, I order a piece of the Scotch Ganache. It was the right choice. I don’t often make those. Blame it on the cigar smoke hanging in the air. It all swirled together perfectly: the chocolate, the whiskey, the honey, the port, the cigar smoke, the solitude. Listening to conservations in a foreign land is its own kind of music. It lets the mind wander. Then with nothing else to do I glide home in the lonely cold Kyoto night.