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This is an archived newsletter from Robin Sloan. You, too, can receive these! They go out every Sunday.

Week 20, the curiosity has gained an avatar

Bathers under a bridge

Bathers Under a Bridge, Paul Cézanne, 1900–1906

The main focus of this recent trip to Japan was bathing in hot springs, or onsens.

Some onsens are big, others are small; some are cool and fizzy, others are scalding, sulfurous; some are split into baths for men and women, other are mixed. Either way, you’re totally naked, which means these onsens offer something special indeed: an experience that’s impossible to photograph. All you can do is sit, and soak, and enjoy yourself.

There was often great beauty—most of these onsens were outside; some faced rushing rivers or bamboo forests—and I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to note the beauty, and… let it pass.


Arxiv

This short sci-fi piece from post-production house The Mill, directed by Ilya Abulkhanov, with a score by Jesse Solomon Clark, is beautiful and strange, with a ton of deeply creative moments, both visual and sonic.

Bonus: the scenes set inside the “moving office” made me think of Chenoe Hart’s essential essay on the real future of autonomous vehicles.


I have so much respect for people who dress interestingly every day—who perform that public service, improving the space we all share. (I am not one of those people.) (Yet?)

This is very different from, say, the Hollywood schlub who wears sweatpants to the coffee shop every morning, then finds a perfectly-tailored tux for the Golden Globes and is lauded for it. I am entirely unmoved by special-occasion style.

There were a lot of everyday, world-improving dressers in Tokyo.


Public bath

Interior of a Public Bath, Utagawa Yoshiiku, ca. 19th century

When I’m traveling, I am always running across interesting things, and in the past, I used to email myself a litany of notes and links. It was easy to do, and very fast, but/and the system created a formidable wall in my inbox upon my return. It required about a half-day to clear them all out: follow the links, file the thoughts. It felt like a slog.

So, on this recent trip, I just created a note on my phone and appended things to it, which is, in retrospect, a million times more sensible than the email-to-self routine.

Here’s my “UPON RETURN” note accumulated in Japan, only lightly redacted. Maybe you’ll find something fun in there!

This leads us to

Notes on the value of physical books, #4723

With a physical book, you can literally “bookmark” an interest. Going through my Japan links, I find that I would like to investigate some of them more deeply. I can’t do that all at once; queueing is required. How can I act on that? A bookmark sent to Pinboard ain’t gonna do the job! When I can connect one of these new curiosities to a physical book, that’s ideal. I order the book, slowest possible delivery. It arrives. And sits. But it doesn’t disappear—doesn’t go silent inside a forgotten digital document or disappear off the bottom of a paged list. I’ll pick the book up again, one of these days. The curiosity has gained an avatar.


It turns out I am, in fact, capable of personal growth, because on this trip, I put off buying any books until my last day in Tokyo, so I would only have to transport thirty pounds of reading material once.

Here’s my haul.

The haul, #1

(Nausicaa Vol. 1, on the right, is of course illegible to me in Japanese, but I loved the feel of this floppy, almost disposable newsprint edition. Miyazaki’s manga opus is probably my favorite story of all time, in any media.)

The haul, #2

The haul, #3

(Something I learned from the jacket copy on the book in the middle: late in his life, Kawabata rewrote his most celebrated novel as a short, barely-two-page “palm-of-the-hand” story… and insisted it was the better version.)

These next three were purchased in Tokyo’s Jimbocho Book Town, where dozens of tiny bookstores line the street—but only on the southern side, so the sun doesn’t shine in their windows and fade the paper. Brilliant. Jimbocho Book Town is a very Penumbra place.

The haul, #4

(I read all of Inside on the plane ride back to California; it was a knockout.)

Finally, here’s my favorite find:

The bath book

I mean, look at it!

The bath book, inside

Pages and pages of cute, detailed cutaways of public baths!!

The bath book, inside

(I have Thoughts™ about public bathing, and the possibility of a new culture of public bathing in the U.S., that I will probably write about at some point in the future. There has possibly been a resurgence among young people in Japan; I don’t know if that’s actually uh, true or not—it’s just something I heard. The public bath does, I believe, provide a strong, precise antidote to many of the deepest afflictions of the 21st century. A place where you can be reminded that your body is normal, and be close to other people but/and feel secure inside a buffer of etiquette and protocol? A place protected from surveillance, where no one is holding a phone? I mean!)


The Gopis Plead

The Gopis Plead with Krishna to Return Their Clothing, from Bikaner, Rajasthan, ca. 1610

☄️R

May 2019, Oakland

Here, at the bottom of the page, I shall say again: the newsletter is the best way to keep up with new offerings.

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