Friday, December 27, 2019

2019 in review

This was a pretty big year for me as I became an empty-nester. Other memorable events were going to Helsinki for a workshop on Wittgenstein's editors, and going to Tokyo for a conference on meaning in life. In Helsinki I spent a day reading correspondence between Anscombe and von Wright, and was struck by how often Anscombe begins her letters by apologizing for not having written sooner. She sounds exhausted and perhaps depressed. Not that she complains or makes excuses, and not that I'm qualified to make any kind of diagnosis on the basis of a few letters, but I think of her now as someone very much working against the odds: a woman in a man's world, a Catholic in a largely secular (and otherwise mostly Protestant) world, and a working mother with seven children and a mostly absent husband (Geach came home from Birmingham only on weekends when he was working). 

I thought about doing a "Two days in Tokyo" post but didn't get around to it. (I was there for longer than that, but an itinerary that includes "attend conference" wouldn't be very interesting) So here goes. Warning: I walked so much that I was limping by the end of each day. The subway is easy to use, and at least some stations seem to have people whose whole job is to help people like me. They speak English too. So maybe I should have made more use of public transport.

Day One: Starting from Hotel Gracery (as seen in the opening credits of Midnight Diner, pronounced as if it were a store selling grace, not one selling grass), walk to the Meiji Shrine (above). It opens at 5 a.m., so you can get there early. This was my single favorite sight, partly because it wasn't too crowded first thing in the morning. Then on to Shibuya Crossing. The best view is from above, inside the Starbucks that Scarlett Johansson walks towards in Lost in Translation. Breakfast in the hotel is expensive and not good, but other places (well, Krispy Kreme anyway) don't open till nine (and if you're jet-lagged as I was you might find yourself getting up around six), so a good idea might be to save breakfast for this Starbucks (maybe get something light first thing from the very nice 7-Eleven in the hotel building). I had a sweet potato drink that was delicious. Next stop: the Hie Shrine. Then on to the Imperial Palace. If you plan ahead (i.e., make a reservation or at least look up what ID you need to join a tour if places are available) you can go on a free (?) guided tour (I didn't). But it doesn't sound great--tour groups are very large and you have to stay with the group the whole time. It takes about two hours. Frankly, since you can't actually go into the palace (even tour groups don't go inside any buildings, as far as I know), it's not super impressive. The walk did take me by the parliament, though, which I hadn't expected, and one of the heavily armed police guarding it saluted me, which was about the friendliest encounter I had while I was there. Japanese people seem to be very polite but reserved. That's a total of 17.5 kilometers walking, according to Google maps, plus walking around at the Meiji Shrine (essential) and the Imperial Palace (not). For lunch I went to a Lawson store and had an egg salad sandwich, two drinks (walking is thirsty work) and some kind of incredibly delicious mochi. (Warning: the things I call delicious above are quite possibly just very sweet. They seemed delicious at the time.) After all that it's time for a hot bath and back out for dinner.

Day Two: Take the subway to Ueno Park, where there are several temples and shrines worth seeing, and visit the Tokyo National Museum. It's actually several museums in one place, and has an excellent restaurant. Then explore Yanaka and Nezu Shrine before hobbling back to the subway station.

At some point--I think it must have been at the end of one of the conference days--I took the subway to the Sensoji Temple, which is very crowded and touristy, but worth seeing. So maybe three days would be better than two. According to Wikitravel, the main things to see are the Meiji Shrine, Sensoji Temple, and the Imperial Palace, so this itinerary covers those bases. Others say the main things are Shibuya Crossing (also covered) and the nightlife of Shinjuku (covered if you stay at Hotel Gracery and go out for dinner). I got out just before Typhoon Hagibis struck, which was lucky.

So that was Tokyo.

What else happened? I went to three concerts (Belle and Sebastian, Kacey Musgraves, and Elvis Costello) and found that how much I enjoyed it varied a lot and was directly proportional to how close I sat to the front. I think I liked Joker best of the movies I saw, but I still haven't seen Marriage Story, The Two PopesLittle Women, or Parasite, so it's too early for me to make my all-important pronouncement on best film of the year. Finally, TV. Of the shows listed here, my favorites are BoJack Horseman and Bron-Broen. My top other three of the decade would be Babylon Berlin, 30 Degrees in February, and Watchmen.

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