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Day 3 Tokyo

We are very happy we stayed a couple of days here because it takes that time to get one’s bearings. 

Today we decided to see an exhibition of Japanese architecture in the very fashionable Ginza area. This is just three metro stops from our studio. We don’t have a map of Tokyo as such an item would be pretty useless. Tokyo is divided into districts so you need a map for each district. We located the Panasonic Museum, where the exhibition was to take place, on Google maps. We thought we were sorted. However street names are often either only in Japanese or not evident at all! Sometimes they are on the ground and sometimes high up on a pole. Getting lost becomes a past time for visitors. Having set off in the wrong direction we quickly realized our mistake, retraced our steps and found the museum. It was situated right next to the oldest railway station building in Tokyo. This railway line is long closed down and the (re)building sits dwarfed by the massive skyscrapers all around. 

The Panasonic building is very impressive consisting of 42 floors. The upper two are occupied by restaurants. These are around the perimeter of the building so that one has to eat or drink there in, at vast expense, to get the view over Tokyo. We passed on this delight. The exhibition was on the 4th floor. It was very interesting showing wooden or polystyrene models of old and new Japanese houses. The expo had been put together by 4 French architects, one of whom lives in Tokyo.

We then took to wandering the very chic streets of Ginza. Every chic fashion house is represented here. At midday precisely police blocked both ends of the main thorougfare and the street became pedestrianised. Masses of people thronged on to the street. It was amazing.

Lunch was had in a beautiful small restaurant which had long open windows on to the street. There is no eating on the street, as far as we have discovered, so this was the nearest we could get to outdoor dining! We reckon it is the Japanese obsession with hygiene which prevents street cafes.

Small observation: does anyone know why  very many Japanese have turned in feet?

30 Apr 2017

Day 2 Tokyo

This starts with last night’s dinner. A truly unmemorable affair. We had nothing planned and had not seen anywhere locally which took our fancy. So we meandered down the big wide street on which our studio is situated. We tried one place but it was fully booked. The next place was empty – we did not heed that obvious warning. It was Chinese not Japanese. We had to order from pictures. We had no idea what we had ordered and we’re still do not know what is was. The place was not clean but we were too tired to care and just wanted to get back to bed.

This morning dawned bright and sunny and we had both slept well. Our studio seating is Japanese style so with my wonky hip I cannot risk lowering myself to floor level. Hence breakfast has to be taken in bed!! 

Our Airbnb host had left 24hrs of Wifi usage. This was running out fast. We also discovered that the plug adapter we had bought in London supposed to be for Japan was not indeed the correct model. We therefore needed to find a wifi provider who would give us temporary access and adapters for our appliances.

We set off for the shopping area just 2 metro stops along our line. This was some experience. Throngs of people and blaring noise. The famous “scramble crossing” is situated in this area. It is well named. Pedestrian crossings criss cross the intersection. When the traffic lights change people converge on the crossing from every direction. It is organised mayhem. However one is at no risk from motor vehicles, it is from bicycles that the greatest threat comes…. The are crazy and cycle on footpaths, the road or any available spot.

We were witness to the Tokyo’s police reaction to a very loud protest group. Several cars were broadcasting loudly as they drove along. The police closed in, threw barriers across the road. A Paddy wagon arrived, we assumed to remove the protesters.

We checked a suitable eating establishment for tonight. It was French. We would have preferred Japanese but as restaurants go this was superb. It was not expensive either.  Three courses for me, five for Barry and a 1/2 bottle of French wine cost about 80€. All well and good until we went to pay. Neither of our credit cards would work. This despite we had informed our banks we would be travelling. The restaurant owner phoned his bank but no joy. He told us not to worry we could come back tomorrow! In fact we were very near our studio so Barry hopped back and got cash. Meanwhile they fed me more delicious mint tea.

This is typical of Japanese people. I was waiting for Barry outside a shop today and the owner came out with a glass of ice cold water.

29 Apr 2017

Day 1.5 of the Japanese adventure

Day 1 in Tokyo

 

28 Apr 2017

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Zone Rouge

Yet again our little cinema offered this documentary by Laetitia Moreau & Olivier Dubuquoy. It was about the production of Aluminium at Gardanne.

Gardanne is a sleepy town which lies to the north of the Calanques which is the beautiful rocky region which runs along the south coast  to the east and west of Marseille. We have passed through it on the train to Marseille. The presence of the Aluminium works dominates the area. We remarked on the red dust covering the vehicles around the station area. Little did we realise what was hidden behind the hills surrounding the town.

In the documentary we see an areal view which is like an alien landscape with its red mountains and lake.

Aluminium is not a metal which is found in its pure form. It is always found imbedded in bauxite. Bauxite is mined along the Equator. The process of extracting the aluminium is the problem. It takes 30 to 40 tons of bauxite  to create a single ton of aluminium. The material left behind is full of toxins.  The plant at Gardanne was set up in 1963 and the mountains and lakes of residue have been building ever since. At one time it it was decided to create a tunnel from the production plant to the Mediterranean and flush the red lake through into the sea. This was done for many years causing the fish in the area to die at worst but to live with a coating of red dust at best. The fishermen were irate but they were powerless against the might of the aluminium producers. Eventually the practice was stopped but the mountains of red dust grow ever higher in Gardanne while the great minds of Europe try to work how how to make it disappear and the area of the Mediterranean sea where the effluent rushed out for years is now dead.

For those of you who understand french here is a link to the documentary:

Pour ceux d’entre vous qui comprennent le français, voici un lien vers le documentaire

What is to be done? The other metals could be extracted from the residue but that would be too costly so the mountains grow ever higher. The documentary interviewed some of the people living in the area who talked about their own ill health and that of their neighbours. The number of cancers among the people in the immediate area of the plant is very high but no one seems to be paying attention. The French government talk about the loss of jobs in the area if the plant closes but no one is talking about the fishermen who cannot fish the area where the red liquid killed the fish. No one is talking about the people dying of cancers which are apparently being caused by the red dust which whips up when the Mistral blows.

France needs aluminium but it does not need this growing mountain of bouxide as it is called. Over the years the authorities have tried to come up with names for the toxic material which are less alarming but the fact remains people are being poisoned by this material.

A solution needs to e found at a worldwide level or at the very least at a European level.

11 Dec 2016

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Ken Loach and his latest film “I David Blake”

I have mentioned our little cinema, in our adopted french village, a number of times. We are so lucky to have it and never tire of saying so. The village itself, nestled at the foot of the Luberon mountains is steeped in ancient history. It is the site of troglodyte homes and vestiges of Roman buildings. Our own home is relatively recent as it is the third belt of building around the village. It was built sometime in the 17th century.

Our cinema is run, mostly on a voluntary basis, by a group of young people. Their taste in film is really eclectic. hence we get to see films we might never choose to go to see or indeed could not be seen in the big screen cinemas.

Last night was no exception. First we were treated to “La Methode Ken Loach” which is a web documentary, in VO with french subtitles. It can be seen here

It gives some insight into how Ken Loach and his team work on an idea and then translate it into a project. He has worked with most of his team for a very long time. His methodology is to try to re-create scenes he, or one of his team,  has witnessed or experienced. He feels that although the result looks and ‘feels’ like a documentary he is freer to present his turn on the events in his own way.

As a photographer, I was really interested in the fact that he uses, wherever possible, natural light and ‘real’ locations. This is a breath of fresh air in the whizz bang world of modern cinematography.

Finding the right actors takes up an enormous amount of time at the preparation stages. For this latest film “I Daniel Blake”, which won the Palme D’Or in Cannes, he chose two ‘unknown actors. For the leading male part he chose a comedian Dave Johns, a true “Geordie’. The female lead was an aspiring actress, Haley Squires. Each was outstanding in the part they had to play.

Part of Loach’s methodology is to let the story unfold without giving the actors all the information. Sometimes he gives one of the actors the information but not the other. This is what happened towards the end of this film. This brings out spontaneous reactions in the actors which would be almost impossible to ‘stage’.

This is a wonderful film and a ‘must see’ for anyone interested in where we are in our present day society.

A trailer can be seen here.

Read also The Guardian article:

Corbyn urges May to see I, Daniel Blake to gain insight to life on welfare

5 Nov 2016