Walking around in Osaka

In most travel guides, Osaka starts with the Glico figure. And if I am really honest, what pulled me there was…

More specifically…

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Wizarding World in USJ

But the city itself is a lot of fun. To me, it was a kinder, friendlier Tokyo. And that is what most of the Kansai region is known for, the friendly folks and food. Being a vegetarian, I couldn’t delve into the cusine much. But the people.. right from our host to random people I met on the streets, they were wonderful. And made the trip all the more fun.

So I like wandering on streets. Walking actually lets you explore a city like roaming around in buses and metro cannot. And in areas like Dotonburi and Namba, the streets are so colorful that it’s fascinating. I chose to live near the Dobutsuen-mae station so these areas were at a walk-able distance. And boy, did I walk.

The first day on the way to Dotonburi, I stumbled upon an Animate! My first Animate! Animate is a chain of stores in Japan dedicated to anime and manga. They are huge stores with entire floors dedicated to manga (Japanese comics), cosplay items, figurines and other merchandise. Animate stays open later than the other local shops, and I was walking really late. I had gone to Nara for a day trip and came back late at night, but I was so excited about getting to know Osaka that I decided to take an after dinner walk.

Now I am an anime (and manga buff). And the street leading to Animate also had a few local anime shops and of course I spent time in those as well. The figurines they were selling were really cheap now that I look back to it. But since it was my first city trip in Japan, I didn’t realize they were (and so missed the opportunity).

I just bought one tiny Luffy.

Luffy figurine

(Still proud of him)

Other kinds of places that were open then were eateries and book shops. More like.. porn shops? Okay hear me out. Japan has a very different (weird?) culture about these. It is usual to find such magazines in convenience stores (konbini) so I had just learned to avoid those sections. And they don’t just have books lying around.. no. That would have been relatively normal. It is very common to find middle aged men standing near these stands reading those books. I kid you not. Maybe I should have taken my lesson from the konbini, but I can’t resist myself when I see a book store. So it took me entering half a dozen stores and finding a number of mostly nude (animated) girls staring back at me to decide that I’m not stepping into any other local bookstore in Osaka. Ever. So consider yourself informed (to whatever end).

The second day I took a day trip to *drumrolls* Universal…! (I should just say Hogwarts). And the third day to Mount Koya (more about that here). All the time getting to see Osaka only at night. But the fourth day.. that was when me and Osaka finally had time alone together. And I packed my bags with my meager vegetarian snacks and headed off to… where else? Dotonburi!

Walking around in Osaka
Walking around in Osaka

I did find some odd snacks here and there. Okay. I just found one.  Never thought I’d spent 200 yens on a chocolate sprinkly banana which looked more than a little weird. Oh well.

While walking around I also stumbled upon this beautiful and quiet shrine in the middle of nowhere. A few locals came to worship here while I was standing there, and it felt completely serene standing just a few meters away from the busiest street in Osaka.

Trinkets like these are what make walking around worth it.

I also bought some clothes from local stores, and somehow stopped myself from getting a really expensive (but cool) hat (phew). For the next day I went to see the puppet show at the National Bunraku Theatre and roamed around in that area (it is a great experience for any theatre lover).

Osaka is a city easy to fall in love with – be it because of the strangers on the street who’ll give you a high five just because you seem a bit down or the beautiful shrines that will peep at you from some corner of the street, or maybe some other secret you might uncover on your trip. If I had stayed for more days, I’m sure I would have found other lovely corners in the streets.

Indian Curry Joint
Look what else I found

 

More on Japan

[Comikist] All about Craig Thompson

Have you read Craig Thompson yet? And I swear I’m not cheating by putting the name of an artist here instead of a list of comics. It’s not like I don’t have a list. Pfft… How could you even think that? It’s just that the list is two specific books by Craig Thompson – Blankets and Habibi. In that particular order.

Thompson’s work, I believe, exemplifies comics as an art. I don’t know where to start talking about it – the exotic stories or the art that merges seamlessly into words. The ink splattered goodness is so heavenly, you can literally tear off every page of the comic (if you have the heart to), get them framed and hang them on your walls. I have lost count of the number of seconds (err… minutes) I have spent lost in a single page while reading the book. And not just while reading, but afterwords. Like googling a quote you’re itching to remember, I’m often stuck looking for a particular page from one of the books, or trying to replicate it by drawing it myself when I can’t get enough of it.

Books are supposed to teleport us into worlds different from our own. Most do it through stories and in novels, the writing style makes all of it happen. Comics, on the other hand, become a double-edged sword. While the images might complement the story, they might even be distracting for the reader, because there is a lot of input to the brain, the flashy images, the stills, the dialog boxes and the words themselves. Craig Thompson executes the style perfectly; so that you feel like the protagonist is holding your hand and leading you through all the confusion that is their story while still have time to swoon over the art.

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Blankets

Then their is the story. Or stories. All of them. The ones I have read till now and the ones I am saving for later, all of them justify the beautiful art they are soaked in. Be it Blankets, where Craig weaves you a story of his first love, each thread spun with nostalgia, or Habibi, a story of slaves and sheikhs as bitter as folklore. If the art is beautiful, the stories enchanting, and tempting you to peak into the future by turning just a few pages.

Even if you don’t read comics, I would urge you to make this one author an exception. If you’re looking for a comfortable spot to edge into the comic world, this is a good way to ease your foot in the door. For starters, I’ll recommend Blankets. And only of you absolutely love Thompson’s style, move to Habibi.

While Blankets is at the end a story – a fond remembrance of Thompson’s first love, Habibi is more of an artistic expression. At many places, it feels like a peak into the author’s mind and his drawing style rather than just a story. I liked the book, but a huge reason behind it is my admiration for Thompson’s art, which made occasional expansions and digressions in the book interesting as it let him expand on how he draws. But for readers who are just interested in the story, these diversions just put them off. In Blankets, the pace of the story is more suited to the readers.

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Habibi

So the verdict is, read Blankets for sure. And if you feel like you start craving more of Thompson’s style, give Habibi a shot.

 

 

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More on comics I’m reading

 

A Guide to booking Opera tickets in Europe

Palais Garnier in Paris

Booking Opera tickets can become a pretty hefty process, especially for newbies. What with looking up good theatres, finding the right websites to book from and then the right dates, seats, and what not. So here’s a handy list to get you started.

One key word here is advance planning. And advance in two senses – planning your itinerary and booking your tickets. If you want to watch an opera, you can’t count on it being staged on the exact days of your stay in that particular city. So it helps to check the dates in advance and tweak the order of your cities to match the opera dates. Once you’re done with the planning, it’s good to get the tickets booked too. If you wait too long, they’d either be sold out, or only the costlier ones will remain. The cheaper tickets tend to sell out faster, and while these might not offer a great view of the stage they have very good acoustics (sometimes better than center theater).

I prefer booking directly from the opera houses’ website. They are reliable and their information cannot be faulted. Often they offer the best prices as well. There are many websites which offer the same tickets at higher prices by buying at better rates earlier. They are actually good for last minute planners, as they might have a chance of finding tickets here even if the show is unavailable at the opera house’s website. Just make sure they are authorized dealers before booking from third party sites.

Here is a list of websites you can consult for your opera planning across different cities.

1. Prague – The National Theatre, The Estates Theatre, The New Stage and the State Opera
The Estates Theatre, Prague
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Prague has a remarkable collection of opera houses. Among these,  The Estates theatre is one of the oldest performing theatres in Europe, preserved in its almost original state after having survived World War 2. Though I’d say all of the theatres are in par, and fairly light on the pocket (as compared to other cities).

The booking experience is also very smooth with their official website. While booking do pay attention to the type of show you’re booking for as they stage opera, ballets, musicals, concerts and laterna magica (traditional Czech show involving image projections).

You can find the program schedule here.

2. Vienna – Vienna State Opera
Wiener Staatsoper, Vienna
Image Credits

The Vienna State Opera needs no introduction. While it was not so lucky as The Estates Theater in regards to the War, it is no doubt a magnificent building. You can find the schedule for the current season in their website here. The ticket bookings can be done through the same link.

The Vienna State Opera also offers around 40-minute guided tours of their opera house at a reasonable cost of € 7.5 a lot of which focuses on working behind the scenes during an opera performance. So even if you’re travelling with people not much into opera itself, the tour might still be interesting for them. The booking for the tour is done through the ticket office in front of the opera but you can get a rough idea of the schedules from their website here.

Another website viennaconcerts.com lists different concerts in Vienna including performances scheduled in the State Opera (in case you’re not lucky with ticket availability on the official website). It also has a great range of Salzburg events which you can check out if you plan a visit to the society.

3. Paris – Palais Garnier
Palais Garnier in Paris
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I believe the Palais Garnier deserves a visit whether or not you’re into opera. With its grand staircase, ornate art and rich history (it was the setting of The Phantom of the Opera), it is not to be missed. So it’s not a wonder that they provide visits to the opera house at specific days priced at € 7-10. You can check the schedules and book the ticket here.

For the opera performance tickets, you can check the schedule and book tickets at their website here. You need to create an account to book tickets through the website, which might be a hassle, but totally worth it in the end.

4. Milan – La Scala
La Scala, Milan
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La Scala is one of the most popular opera houses in Europe. It has a chequered history. In the old days it was usual for trading activities to be carried here alongside the opera, which roughened the experience for the average opera lover. Nonetheless, La Scala is connected with many world famous artists which have either debuted here or have graced the theatre’s stage atleast once in their careers. The tickets can be booked at their website here. The theatre also opens for visits and guided tours are available through third party operators.

5. Venice – Teatro la Fenice
Teatro La Fenice in Venice
Image Credits

There is no theatre which has seen more disputes over each of its reconstructions (the most recent being in 2001) than Teatro La Fenice. Still, it is a spectacular opera house and acclaimed worldwide. Tickets can be booked at their website here. You’ll have to do a calendar search to see what’s on during your visit. They have different types of tours available, the standard one being with an audio guide for €10 per person. There is no advance booking option but you can check out the schedule and types of tours here.

Candy House

Candy House

I make myself a candy house everyday,
with new flavours – raspberry,
bubblegum, orange, guava, cherry;
with new tweaks – a cotton candy bed
or a swirling table with a chocolate seat at the head.

And everyday, the candy house protects
the brilliant colours and savory odours,
from the blackness of innumerous insects
that leave the house I carefully crafted to moulder
into hollowed nothings and ugly cuttings.

In my city I roam apprehensive
jealous of people living in wooden houses
that boast of splendid appearances,
and stay the same stable homes
through passing days and years gone.

And they think of my candy house
as an exquisite work of art,
ignorant of the pests that plough it to bits
or of the desperation that keeps building it up.
Again. Everyday. So I can keep up
the sweet appearances.

Candy House

 

More Poems

Silences and Smiles

If I had a superpower
I want it to stop myself from thinking
what others are thinking
every hour.

So that I would not fall short
of goals I had never sought.
And just live my life. Like I want.
And not like what I think they think is my wont.

Near people it’s never quiet
even in silence, I hear voices fight;
personal takes on what is wrong and what is right.
When actually their field of vision are narrower
than a one dimensional line.

Stop! Pause for a breath
Pause into silence and keep it fed.
Take in a lungful of fresh air
And let me, to myself be fair,
without shamelessly being drawn
against others who are individuals of their own.

It’s not teenage angst
I’m not in that age gap anymore.
It is instead a suffocating pillow you snuff
on my face every minute and still expect me to smile in return.
Which my superpower tears to shreds
with an ugly scowl.
Because people are not measured in smiles.
The secret is… you don’t measure them at all.

So I look into their eyes and pity their life
which has twisted them so they can only derive
pleasure from others’ plights
while they pretend their life is alright.
And smile. And pretend. And smile.

 

More Poems

An expression in ink

You tell me I live in a society.  And societies have rules. Undocumented. Unsaid. Unanimous. Untampered. Unquestionable. I tell you I have a life. Mine. And while I know you are right. I also know that I’m not wrong.

When I make choices,  I understand all the directions the repercussions might burst into.  I may underestimate the magnitude,  but I get the general direction. But the choice in itself is valueless to me. I accept the consequences as a payment for the freedom of making it. But your comments and your slights are not to be wrapped in the same packing. When I travel to a new place,  I understand that I may be lost.  When I stand on the stage,  I confront the risk of drawing a blank.  And when I get a tattoo,  I know it’s permanent.

You don’t have to spell it out to me. I know how to read. Or listen. Or think. Or choose. Everything. The design. The place. The size.

You don’t have to protest about missing your vote on my pre-tattoo design deciding panel. I don’t need it. Your permission. Or approval. Or pat on the back. It’s still healing and I’d rather not get it infected.

It might surprise you to know that it wasn’t an impulsive decision. I did think long about it. But even if it was,  I don’t get why I need to tell you about it. If I have to maintain a journal of my choices,  I’d rather it be my body than the constricted puzzles in your brain.

I don’t need you to make me look for questions in my answers, when you really don’t care about the why or the what or the how. Because you’re too busy making the world fit into your own fancy mold to understand it.

Every statement that I make, does not need your approval stamp. And you can rant about your views in words that won’t sting more than an inked needle. And my mind will pay you no heed. Because opinions are like seashells.  I’ll choose the ones I like and leave the rest to the waves.

Dedicated to all who made me think yet again about something I’d already been pondering over for years – getting a tattoo. And dedicated to all those who are still letting others steer your life when you’re one hell of a driver yourself.

In my mind 

In my mind, I have so much to speak
Words like a waterfall gushing out of a creak.
They splash across my mind before I sleep
but never when you stand in front of me.

I am not very talkative to begin with.
The cogwheels in my brain don’t move to many a topic,
maybe just books, art, anime, music.
And to you they seem as unreal as a witch’s tonic.

So when you come stand next to me all expectant,
I try my best but stay as vain as a pendant
wishing to defy the gravity to which it’s nature tends
even as the clasp holding my string of thoughts fragments.

‘Coz in my mind I’ve already said a million words
in makeshift worlds of which you’ve never heard
that convey most of what whirls in my head
even as in the real world I tactfully keep the silence fed.

So you think of me as uncomfortably quiet
While I think you to be suitably notified.
But if you could only read thoughts, we might have a tryst
Heedless of the words that stay,  just in my mind.

 

More Poems

Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehesi Coates)

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Once in a while, you run into a book you know you’ll cherish for the rest of your life. A book which speaks to you, which feels more like a conversation than a storytelling, which makes you feel like you’ve known someone through its pages more intimately than you could have through any conversation. Only in this case, that someone was just another black living in America. Only, this is the first time I have heard the story from the other side – the story I could only watch on news from halfway across the world.

I believe that this book needs to be read. Because we are so used to single sources of information, articles squeezed into the familiar pattern, audience oriented news pieces, that we forget to think, to feel, to understand. We overlook. We forget. We pretend ignorance. We instinctively distance ourselves from topics too difficult to talk about because we believe we are too caught up chasing our own dreams.

Out of all this book leaves me with, there is a strong respect for Ta-Nehisi Coates, and it is not just because he confronts the daily dread of being black in America and scribbles it down for other people to understand, but because of the way he does it, his reasoning, the pain, helplessness, rage, frustration resonating in every sentence which tries to answer the one question that any bystander or victim of such pointless violence is left reeling in – why – a question which the assailant cannot understand.

Coates’ account is at once fascinating, revolting and heartbreaking – fascinating because of his analysis, his compelling theory of what drives this blind violence, this feigned ignorance and abject disparity; revolting because it reveals to you all the forms that violence can take and heartbreaking because of the way Coates puts it into words and because of the unfairness of it all.

There is so much that this book has conveyed to me which I had no way of knowing from elsewhere, that I am scared of translating it into my own words lest I should alter the meaning in any way. Because these thoughts are Coates’ own and he must be the one to tell you about them. Here is a bit of an excerpt.

Slavery is not an indefinable mass of flesh. It is a particular, specific enslaved woman, whose mind is active as your own, whose range of feeling is as vast as your own; who prefers the way the light falls in one particular spot in the woods, who enjoys fishing where the water eddies in a nearby stream, who loves her mother in her own complicated way, thinks her sister talks too loud, has a favorite cousin, a favorite season, who excels at dressmaking and knows, inside herself, that she is as intelligent and capable as anyone. “Slavery” is this same woman born in a world that loudly proclaims its love of freedom and inscribes this love in its essential texts, a world in which these same professors hold this woman a slave, hold her mother a slave, her father a slave, her daughter a slave, and when this woman peers back into the generations all she sees is the enslaved. She can hope for more. She can imagine some future for her grandchildren. But when she dies, the world – which is really the only world she can ever know – ends. For this woman, enslavement is not a parable. It is damnation. It is the never-ending night. And the length of that night is most of our history. Never forget that we were enslaved in this country longer than we have been free. Never forget that for 250 years black people were born into chains – whole generations followed by more generations who knew nothing but chains.

I couldn’t help thinking about Macklemore’s song White Privilege II at more than one point. I remember reading somewhere that it is a small book, easy to read in a few sittings, but for me, it is one of the heaviest I have ever read.

Comikist – My comic pick list

I have just recently been washed up on the shores of the gigantic sea of graphic novels. I like to think that I’m not a complete novice, because I am somewhat familiar with the world of manga. But the fact that I’m fairly new to graphic novels, is still just that – a fact. I’ve been picking up and sampling a number of comics these days, and here’s my opinion on some of the Marvel ones.

bp-coverBlack Panther #1 – #8: Ta-Nahesi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, Laura Martin

Black Panther has been one of my favorite avengers ever since I read Civil War. He has that mysterious aura around him (which has nothing to do with how he always wears black) and his personality, which jjust exudes class. My interest in him is also somewhat influenced by Storm being his love interest and their wedding scene from Civil War which was just breathtaking.

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Coates however divulges into the world of Wakanda with utter submission. He never fails to bring in subtle aspects of the culture which I can only partially appreciate as I’m not as acquainted with African culture as I would like to be. He doesn’t give up the questioning yourself characteristic trait of a superhero, though it is more subdued (maybe because Wakanda is so obviously in chaos and everyone is doubting T’Challa anyway).

What bought me over to Coates’ side is the constant discourse on monarchy and politics which definitely gives you something to chew on.

Without doubt, these discussions are the treasure trove of the black panther comics. Brian Stelfreeze does a wonderful job with the art. I love the simplicity of T’challa’s costume, the masks that capture the rebelling women and how the colours flow from Wakanda to the dream world to where the rebels are hiding.

This comic has the potential to be a gem in Marvel’s crown of comics with its thoughtful discussions and beautiful art.

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Mosaic #1 & #2: Geoffrey Thorne, Khary Randolph, Emilio Lopez

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Remember how I was talking about the self-doubting superhero in Black Panther, Thorne takes all that self-doubt into his hands, wraps it in a fabric of moral obligations, and throws it out of the court of Mosaic.

An acclaimed and repulsively overconfident basketball star, Morris, who has everything in his life – skills, fame, a loving girlfriend, a father as constant support – suddenly has everything brutally taken away from him leaving behind a superpower that feels more like a curse. The only way for Morris to survive is by possessing (or rather becoming) other people and living through them.

The simplicity of the art in the comic contrasts with how intricate Morris’s powers are. Since the comic is in the starting stage, the story is still not developed enough to form a definitive opinion.

One thing I’m really looking forward to is how Morris grows into his superpowers and his view on being a superhero, because he is definitely not one right now.

I also like the name ‘Mosaic’ as a complement to Morris’s powers. Even if the people he’s lived in may forget what happened to them, Morris does not. And some part of them remains in him and will definitely affect his personality. I really like the lettering in the books, done by Joe Sabino, especially when Morris has a personality breakdown during body snatching.

As Mosaic is still developing, I will just be another reader on the sidelines. For now, I can say that it is definitely grippy.

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Groot #1-#5: Jeff Loveness, Brian Kesinger

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This is my first comic on anything related to the Guardians. I’m surprised myself that it took me this long seeing how much I loved the movie. But somehow, Guardians without the music did not really appeal to me that much. However, I feel like I didn’t understand enough of Groot’s personality in the movies except to recognize him as an overly friendly tree who’ll go to any lengths for his friends.

I wasn’t a fan of the art style chosen in the comic. The lining was too harsh even though the expressions were interesting. I didn’t get the dig at Superman with the Kor/Al scene either. What I did like about the comic was how Groot’s character was center stage. You could see the effect he had on people around him, even with his limited three-word vocabulary. The little adventure with silver surfer was fun too.

I wouldn’t call Groot a favorite, though it is good enough for when I’m missing the duo. I did have doubts about the series since it stars a character that can hardly speak. But I soon realized that Groot’s personality needed no more words. I may still grow into the comic. 

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The Mighty Thor #1 – #7: Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, Matt Wilson

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The new Thor has been raging strong in The Mighty Thor continuing from where it left off in Thor. The war of the realms that was hinted at since the beginning is finally gaining speed as more realms are thrown into turmoil. I have been a fan of Aaron’s work ever since the first Thor came out. Feminism aside, what drew me into the story was that the new lady Thor is just so… badass. And when the identity was finally revealed at the end, it was a perfect win.

If you’re into women superheroes or even if you would like to give it a start, this is just the book. If not that, the Thor universe in itself is pretty sticky. There is a lot happening in this series with rainbow bridges, light elves, crazy CEOs, Loki being Loki, the All-Father being incredibly stubborn, Malekith being enchantingly evil, and Thor flying around wielding Mjolnir. 

I also forayed into The Unworthy Thor just so I can know what was happening with Odinson all the while that the lady Thor was stealing all the glory. All because the new  comics got me so into the world of Asgard.

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That is all on my mind from the Marvel side of the universe.

So what have you been reading lately?