Originally For LANDSCAPES #1
Translation by John Storey & Kawaguchi Takao
Let me continue the story of my trip...
It was when I came home from the trip to Darwin that I discovered an unusual landscape in such a usual place like the bathroom. That sparse part of my studio apartment was just the same as before: a tiny tub, a shower head with a hose connected to the tap, bars of soap and shampoo bottles scattered around. Water sprinkled out of the shower head, set as high as the ceiling, and rained over my head and shoulders, trailing loudly down my back and legs to the floor. What puzzled me was how such a cheap but functional space reminded me of my trip to Australia.
The bathroom of the hotel in Sydney. The shower room of the youth hostel in Alice Springs. The bathroom of the college dormitory in Darwin. Positions of the taps I fumbled around for in the shower, the hardness of the water drops falling from the tap, the unpleasant touch of the wet shower curtain... It was strange how the slightly different sensations those details in each bathroom had caused in me were still vivid, almost scary that such lingering sensations from the trip could suddenly emerge and live in me again.
Water from the shower escaped down the drain of my apartment bathroom, taking with it those leftover sensations. Or were those feelings and the landscapes from the trip simply returning home to the other side of the equator? My bathroom soon regained its original state-except for the drain, which opened down underground and seemed somewhat unfamiliar.
The train line I ride everyday has a branch that goes underground. At the junction, the subway train runs parallel to mine for a while, and then accelerates off to disappear into the darkness underground. Following it with my eyes from the window of my train, I feel like my consciousness was whisked away with it.
That day, I was on the subway which I usually see off on its trip underground. Maybe I was influenced by the travel essay I had just been reading, but I couldn't help imagining the train taking me deep down through to the other side of the earth to Brazil.
When I arrived at my destination, I got off the train and passed through the ticket gate and went up outside to the open plaza.
You turn your back on the Praca da Sé and descend into the earth. There, underneath this world of ours, you will find another world, a white hell flooded with fluorescent light. This is a "super-praca", a vast, double-layered square with the lower level serving as a subway station. You take the North-South Line, go south one stop to Liberdade, or "Freedom." There is not even time to catch a glimpse of a dream in the window pane. 1
People carrying bicycles under their arms emerge above ground from the subway station one after another, a sight only visible in San Francisco where you are allowed to take bicycles on the subways. There is a group of kids decked out in colorful gear. There is a man riding an unusually tall model he most likely customized himself. Another cyclist, middle-aged, looks as if he has been riding for many, many years. According to today's newspaper, the number of these riders has surpassed 5000, maybe even 7000. 2
Combat, Elysée, George V, Etienne-Marcel, Solférino, Invalides, Waugirard. A series of the names of subway stops that have spontaneously stripped themselves of infamous past associations with the plazas and streets above ground and in turn have become an existence of unrecognizable shapes, like fairies of the catacombs and gods of the sewer system, wandering in the darkness that is briefly interrupted by the headlights and echoes of trains whistling by.3
Subways run in 94 cities around the world, and even more expansions are in the works. Cities such as Guangzhou in China, Kwang Ju in South Korea and New Delhi in India are planning to build underground transportation systems. The names given to the subway stations around the world become distinct from their above-ground associations; they interact with each other and emerge as a poetic network of the world beneath. At that moment, the ground surface that has been described in a two-dimensional plane as a uniform extension of space suddenly begins to murmur.
My train was about to leave the city center behind and reach the suburbs. It quickly rushed up above ground and onto an elevated track. Just as the sunlight broke through the windows, the train entered into a landscape of rooftops, as if having responded to the poetic power of the network of the names of the stations underground.
One day, when I got home a friend of mine called. On the same day I left with him for the Uzbekistan Republic in Central Asia. Tashkent, the country's capital, is the hub of the Central Asian area. It has had a subway since 1977. I imagined that Tokyo's subway was connected to the world's subway network and had also found a channel to and started communicating with the subways in Central Asia. I started videotaping my trip in order to capture on film the exact moment when the two subway systems would link.
It takes over 10 hours to fly from Tokyo’s Narita airport to Tashkent via Seoul. Being on board an airplane, however, blurs the sense of passage of time. In-flight movies and beverage and meal services inside a fully climate-controlled cabin, combined with naps in between, leads you believe in the seemingly continuous, uninterrupted cycle of day and night. You cannot find any constant changes of the landscape outside the window that would prove you are being transported for any significant scale of distance. Rather you can only ambiguously realize it in changes to your physical condition–the back pain and tensed legs from sitting in the same position for a long time, the jet lag. The relationship between time and distance becomes something relative in the air, and hence it may differ depending on the physical condition of each passenger. This fact allows me to conclude that Tashkent's subway is located just outside the underground station of the airport liner inside Terminal No. 2 at Narita airport.
A short walk through an underground passage sandwiched by kiosks leads you to the subway station entrance. You drop in some coins, the local currency, and pass through an automatic ticket wicket. You go deeper, down a long escalator. The interior of the subway station–each station is unique in its interior decor, I had heard–was clean and beautiful, with high ceilings that gave me the impression the space was larger than it really was. I recorded the descent to the platform through the lens of the video camera I had tucked under my arm.
As soon as I walked off the escalator and panned the camera behind me and upward along the long escalator, a uniformed policeman told me to stop recording. I was taken to his office. We had an exhausting argument in some incomprehensible language. I decided to erase the tape. In that small cubicle that I assumed was their patrol base, what had been recorded on the video tape was deleted. The continuous landscape bridging the subway in Tokyo and the subway in Tashkent was then interrupted. My story of the illusory global subway network ended there.
Several days later my friend was hospitalized with a fever and nausea. The digestive organs inside his body, held in tact by a network of nerves and blood vessels probably more complex than Tokyo’s subway system, was reduced to a shower with a loose valve, draining fluids from either end of the duct. I remember a novelist who referred to the internal organs of the human body to describe underground spaces such as sewer systems and stone pits. Human organs covered with a ground of skin, may also be a part of the underground world.
The hospital room my friend was put in did not have much furniture except for a large wash bowl and a metal pipe chair. A nurse came in with a bucket of heated water and a milk pan. I wondered if she was going to rinse his stomach. She forced him drink a large amount of water and then vomit, repeating this very same procedure several times-once, twice, three times, four times, five times.... Soon, the fluid that erupted from his mouth gradually lost the stench of bile. Each time he gagged and coughed. When he vomited for the last time inside the dimly lit hospital room, the fluid hit the surface of the water in the bucket and splashed over my feet.
After that, his condition stabilized, but his fever remained high and he was still fairly sick. We couldn't continue traveling any longer and knew we had to leave Uzbekistan. So we flew from Samalkand to Tashkent and waited for the next flight back to Tokyo via Seoul.
It didn’t take long to return to my daily routine. I dealt with the e-mail that was left unanswered. But then I felt that same feeling–that I was connected with some other place via the underground. Messages were sent through the cables underground and beneath the oceans, to and from addresses far away.
What is it about this underground universe that the digital network also represents? That trip underground, which was connected in one moment and cut in the next, and then was pulled inside my friend's body mediated by diarrhea and nausea: this represents the phenomena of connecting, cutting and reversing as a means of constantly renovating the way we look at this world. Possibilities of acquiring such an alternative perspective, which I call underground poetry, are being born from the fragments of the landscape of that trip. But I still do not have a map to piece together those fragments. I am afraid they may be scattered and quietly resettle into the old and familiar before forming a fresh landscape.
A new map is needed. A new map that can invoke the power from underground in order to be updated with fragments that fall off from the familiar landscape.
Let me continue with my story of my trip. After I finished writing this travelogue, it was my turn to be hospitalized with a stomach ache, cause unknown. They put me through various tests but couldn't figure out the root of the pain. But I believe it was a signal telling me that my trip underground was not yet over, that it was continuing through the tunnels inside my body.
Let me continue the story ...
(1) Suga Keijiro, Columbus' Dog, 1989, Kobundo Publishing
(2) Matsuura Satoko, Bicycle Demonstration, article in Chu'nichi Shinbun newspaper, morning edition, 13 August 1997.
(3) Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, Japanese translation by Imamura Hitoshi and others, 1993, Iwanami Shoten Publishing.
copyleft 1998 MIYATA Kazuki