l a k e s h i k o t s u

i noticed that my last couple of despatches haven’t made it through the system so i’ll try sending them again.

[ 20:36 sunday 8 june – itou onsen, lake shikotsu, hokkaido, japan ]

last week i was in sapporo, the largest city in japan’s northernmost island hokkaido, to give a presentation at a technology conference. next week i have to be in boston for another one. it’s been a stressful week so on friday evening i decided to try and escape into the wilderness for the weekend. i spent half an hour on the web looking for interesting places. initially i was tempted by some lakes in the far east of the island but it turned out it would take nine hours to get there. hokkaido is enormous. after a bit more searching lake shikotsu caught my eye, with its mysterious forests and mountains. i found a small slightly run-down looking onsen (a hotel beside a hot spring) in an isolated location at the lake’s edge. i phoned. one of the staff spoke some english. a room was available. i made a reservation for two nights and made my way down by bus yesterday afternoon.

i’m sitting now in an old-fashioned tatami-floored room with a thin futon where i’ll soon sleep. the sliding window is fully open. through it i look out across the huge still surface of the lake, ringed by three volcanoes each rising more than a thousand metres. everything is covered with dense deciduous forest. a small cluster of lights in the distance marks a cluster of restaurants and shops the other side of the lake, otherwise the horizon is dark in every direction. i hear the slap and gurgle of the small waves against the shore and the occasional cry of a heron. if i leave my room, go down the stairs, left out of the door onto the lakeside and down some steps i reach a pool made from rocks at the edge of the lake, with a fence dividing men’s and women’s sides. this is where the hot spring emerges, accompanied by a faint whiff of sulphur.

today i climbed mount eniwa, the largest of the three volcanos, which rises directly behind the onsen. it’s a steep climb and reaching the summit at one thousand four hundred metres was hard work. several sections even required ropes. the path mainly follows a sharp ridge that arrives at the summit from the east. a succession of fumeroles belches out sulphurous gases which mingle with the clouds eddying and swirling round the peak of the mountain. people said it would take four hours to get up but i did it in less than two hours. i passed half a dozen people on the way, each with the customary bell tinkling on their backpacks. at the summit i met a couple of friendly chaps from a town near sapporo so we made the descent together and taught each other a few words. i was exhausted when i reached the onsen. stripping and lowering myself into the pool was blissful. i stayed in there a couple of hours, watching fisherman come and go in their little boats.

granny’s funeral was held on friday the twenty-third of may in shrewsbury. in the middle of the service i played the second movement of bach’s italian concerto on the organ. i never had a chance to play this for her but i think she’d have liked it a lot. i was nervous that i might break down in tears halfway through playing it, which happened when i was practicing it the day before. but i avoided this and actually i think it was the best performance of the piece i’ve given. i found the christian elements of the service quite distasteful. the priest’s contributions all seemed to be impersonal and grim. shockingly he even got granny’s name wrong at the committal. a couple of my favourite photos of granny are here with me now, propped on chests at the side of the room. it’s hard to believe i won’t be taking any more.

immediately after granny’s funeral i escaped to stromboli for a few days. alitalia overbooked the flight so i ended up in a milan hotel for the night then on the six o’clock plane to palermo the next morning. the only way i could reach the last hydrofoil of the day to stromboli was to get a taxi all the way from palermo to milazzo, about two hundred and fifty kilometres. my visit coincided with an intense scirocco and temperatures in the mid thirties. i spent much of the time on the beach and in the sea. despite the brevity of the visit i saw a lot of my friends. i also saw antonio’s almost-completed portrait of neptune for the first time, a remarkable piece of work. on the monday night i walked up to punta u bronzu with giuliano. we watched the volcano erupting and the moon rise as the hot wind blew over us.

a taxi will be here at five in the morning to take me to the airport so i ought to pack my bags and get a few hours’ sleep. tomorrow i fly to tokyo, then new york.

: c :

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