POSTCARD#44: Chiang Mai: Time to close this chapter of the story. I’m leaving soon for New Delhi, transit in Bangkok for some days. The flight departs at 16.20 and before that there are things to do in the apartment: a basket of laundry to iron; ironing table set up and I’m standing there. Pointed end of the iron smoothens its way among the creases, sailing through mountains and valleys of fragrant laundered cloth, leaving a warm, flat plain of patterned textile in its wake. Place the heavy iron on its metal stand and there’s that pleasing little sound: clink-clink… then pick it up again to do another part of the garment. Doing the front, the back, the shoulders, the collar – place it on its stand again: clink-clink. Ironing is such a peaceful thing, the hot smoothness of it, all these landscapes of wrinkled cotton eased away.
Pictures unfold in the mind, a memory appears, the story begins. It’s wintertime, I’m in Kamakura, Japan, snow everywhere and the colourless luminosity of reflected light inside the dark interior of my cute little house (everything is small in Japan) high up on the slope of a hill, in the precincts of Zuisenji temple. The ironing table set up by the window; just enough room if I move carefully, laundry basket placed at hand and on the corner of a small table, a pile of folded ironed things. The brightness of reflected light outside illuminates what I’m doing. A time of sleepy afternoon days, the clink-clink sound of the iron at intervals intrudes gently into this comfortable silence.
There’s a small slooshing sound of someone walking through the snow – look out the window; a blinding whiteness, a photographic negative. Black tracks of footsteps on the path leading to the steps to the temple. It’s a lady walking with great care, taking smaller steps than Japanese ladies usually take. She is dressed in a long dark maroon coat and indigo coloured costume down to the ankles, feet in wooden geta slippers secured by a small V-shaped thong passing between the first and second toe over tabi, white stockings specially stitched for the purpose, and the entire foot encased in transparent galoshes with pretty floral designs. Holding her hand is a little girl about 8 years old, and it just happens that as I’m looking at the girl and her small white face, alert eyes, she turns to look at me… a faint smile, a moment of intelligent understanding; she sees me, a gaijin, framed in my window at eye level with the street: a foreigner lives there, in a house the same as ours… or maybe there are no words for it, just some kind of recognition, an enigma suddenly cleared away and knowing this.
How did life turn out for her? I feel sad that we only had the shared experience for that instant. Maybe it’s the remembering of events like these, returning many years later; a moment recalled, a thing that was puzzling for a long time suddenly understood, somehow – beyond words. These small moments of understanding, overlapping each other and it could be the more I’m aware of it, the more conscious experience includes the possibility of revelation. And this is the reason why there’s always a fascination with the remembered moment; an event or an accumulation of events that make sense… somehow. Language doesn’t stretch that far; the whole thing just carries meaning.
Ironing along the seams, the waistband, how good these garments look, just as they are, stitched art objects – clink-clink goes the iron. Pictures unfolding in the mind, a memory of an event is a story with a beginning, a middle, an end – although I might arrive in the middle and have to work it out from that entry point; searching for the ending of it so that I have some idea of what the beginning could have been – then re-order it so the story starts as it should (“… once upon a time….”). Language insists on a structure, I have to ‘story’ it (verb: to story), think about how to get it to work; what happened after that? Create a sequence of events. Listening to a story I’m telling myself as if it were being told to me by someone else.
Getting this place cleared up and ready now so that it can enfold itself quietly in hibernation while I’m away living in another world. Soon it’ll be time to jump into the taxi and off…
‘We are forever telling stories about ourselves. In telling these self-stories to others we may, for most purposes, be said to be performing straightforward narrative actions. In saying that we also tell them to ourselves, however, we are enclosing one story within another. This is the story that there is a self to tell something to, a someone else serving as an audience who is oneself or one’s self…. On this view the self is a telling.’ [Roy Schafer]