London, Paris, New York: A Centimeter Journey
– Travel Fragments by Kaz Fujimoto & Digital Art by Djoto Eschei & Russell Parrish –
I’m staring into her blue eyes or rather her blue eyes are staring into my dark brown eyes.
Every time a yellow cab with the headlights on passes at the dark hour of the night, the blueness of her eyes glows and her facial expression seems to wear a little warmth for a second.
Or is it coldness? Whatever it is, I’m no longer in New York, I’m no longer in Japan.
As soon as I let go of everything, I get drowned deep in the Adriatic Sea…
I was watching a soccer game at a bar. Sweden vs Poland. At halftime, I went outside and I was stretching my body.
Suddenly, someone called me. “Yo, China. What the fuck are doing here? Are you doing yoga or something?”
It was a Black guy wearing a Yankees hat at an outside seating. And his friend.
There was some viciousness in his voice.
In the 90s, I used to get it all the time. “Yo, Bruce Lee. What the fuck are you doing here? You don’t belong here!”
But in the 21st century, it didn’t happen any more, so I was a little surprised.
He said, “come over here.” So I did. He was some older wino like me. “Where are you from?”
“Yes.” Somehow his attitude became milder.
“I wanna go to Japan. Tell me one city I should go to.” I said, “Kyoto”.
“Kyoto? I know a sushi restaurant called Kyoto.”
“Well, it’s the old capital and you would enjoy it. Beautiful architecture and everything.”
As we had a conversation, we were beginning to like each other.
He said, “I’m the coolest mother fucker, but I don’t always appear to be that way.”
So I said to him, “You are the coolest mother fucker. I know that.”
He smiled. “So, if I go to Japan, will all the girls like me?”
“Well, it’s up to you bro.”
He started laughing. “That’s true. By the way, you look like fucking John Lennon, man. When I was a kid, the first song I liked was a Beatles’ song.”
“Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
“That is a fucking great song. You gotta good taste, bro. Are you from the neighborhood, man?”
“No, I’m originally from San Francisco. That’s my city.”
“I’ve been there. That’s a beautiful city.”
He had a bottle of vodka in a black plastic bag. “Hey, do you want some of this?”
I turned down the offer, but at the end we were talking like the best of friends.
“Very nice to meet you, bro.” We had a real heartfelt handshake.
Veronica was from Como, a northern city in Italy. She was still 18 and I was 21. She had curly golden hair and beautiful eyes. We went to the same college but we were in different classes. I would only see her at lunch time. We had a mutual friend and that’s how I got to know her. It was the fall semester and it was warm. She would eat her sandwich and banana outside sitting on the lawn reading her book, wearing sunglasses. I was attracted. I was always shy but not that shy. I started talking to her whenever I had a chance. Now she recognized me and waved at me when she saw me. Basically, I fell in love with her. I started eating my lunch outside the cafeteria near her among the other friends she had. Her being just made me happy. But she was going back to Italy after this semester. Back in my room at the dorm on campus, I turned on the radio. A song called “Crazy” by Aerosmith was playing. “I go crazy, crazy, baby, I go crazy. You turn it on, then you’re gone, yeah you drive me…” I thought, mmm, I have to tell her that I love her. If I don’t, I will regret it all my life. I wrote a song called “Veronica”. It sounded a bit like Bob Dylan’s “I want you”. But I thought, well she’s not gonna know.
I recorded that song on a cassette tape and I was going to give it to her. One early morning, I waited for her with my cassette tape in my hand. She wasn’t staying on campus, she was staying with her relatives somewhere near the school. And there were several different entrances and I didn’t know which one I should wait at. I made my best guess and I waited there. Some students started showing up. It was kind of embarrassing. I mean they didn’t know why I was standing there but I felt embarrassed. Shit, what am I doing here? I waited and waited and there was no sight of Veronica. Maybe I’m at the wrong entrance. When I almost gave up, I finally saw Veronica walking toward this very entrance. Then she saw me.
“Good morning, Kaz. What are you doing here?”
“Well, I was waiting for you.”
“Well, I wrote a song for you and I want you to listen to it.”
I handed her the tape.
“Oh, yeah? Thanks.” She looked a bit surprised.
My heart was beating fast but anyway, my mission was complete.
After a week or so, I was wondering if she listened to the song. Her best girlfriend was from Argentina. When she saw me, she started laughing really hard. I thought, what was that about? Is she mentally ill? Then, I thought, oh, maybe Veronica told her about that. That’s why. So she must have listened to the song. That’s good.
I saw Veronica after that but she never mentioned the song. And I didn’t ask her about it. At the end of the semester, there was a little party for all the foreign students on campus. Veronica and I didn’t really talk to each other. When the party was almost over, she came up to me and said,”I really liked your song, Kaz.” And she kissed me on the cheek…
I was at Montgomery International Airport to catch a flight to Miami.
It’s not really a big airport but not as small as the one in Santa Fe.
It was around noon and I was hungry. I didn’t have breakfast this morning.
There was only one tiny bar inside the airport. There was one girl standing by the cash register. “Excuse me, are you serving food right now?”
“Well we are out of a lot of stuff, but sure, we can fix you something.”
“Do you have any soups?”
“No, but we have chili.”
“Okay, how about chili and cheeseburger?”
“Yep, I think we can do that. No fries?”
“No fries. And vodka with club soda.”
“With a slice of lemon?”
“That would be lovely.”
She sent my order to the kitchen and started making my drink.
“So where are you from?”
“I’m from Brooklyn.”
“Is that where you grew up?”
“No, I grew up in Japan.”
“Oh cool.” She put my drink on the counter. I was thirsty. I started to sip on it right away.
“Do you know Japan?”
“No, but my best friend married a Japanese guy. His name is Toshihiko. Am I saying it right?”
“Very good. Do they live here?”
“Yes, not in Montgomery but the next town not too far from here.”
“I thought I was the only Japanese person in Alabama at this moment.”
“Oh you’d be surprised. There are so many Japanese companies here. Automobile, steel, chemical, pharmaceutical and life insurance, etc…”
“Well my resume is not good enough to apply for jobs at those industries, but that’s good to know. Are you from here?”
“No, I’m half Israeli and half Ukrainian.” In fact, she had an exotic look and was very beautiful. And she had a slight accent but not strong.
“Oh I could tell by the way you made this vodka drink.”
“Only the Ukrainian part of me.” She smiled.
“Do you drink vodka?” I asked.
“No, I hate vodka actually, ha ha. I prefer wine.”
“Oh, I once tried a red wine from Tel Aviv. It was very good.”
“Not many people know but they make some good wine in Israel.”
Then, a bell rang behind her.
“Oh, here’s your food. Enjoy!”
“Well do me one last favor. Can I ask the Ukrainian part of you to make the same drink?”
“Ha ha ha, of course!” She made exactly the same drink. The way I liked it.
“By the way, where you headin’?”
“Ah Miami.” Then she frowned.
“There’s no flight to Miami from here.”
“Oh to Atlanta first and then Miami.”
“There you go. Have a safe trip, then.”
I left this tiny bar and sat at a table looking at a couple of airplanes parked through the huge window. The sun was high and it was very peaceful. There was only a handful of other people around. I was working on this second drink, then the first one kicked in and I wasn’t hungry anymore. But I finished the food anyway. And I looked forward to a little nap on the plane.
I was twenty-two, twenty-three years old when I lived in London. Then I decided to go back to the states. To New York. But I had another idea. “Maybe I should go to New Orleans and become a piano player like Professor Longhair or Dr. John.”
While I was living in New York, this little crazy idea never escaped my mind. Twenty years flew by. I finally decided to visit New Orleans—to experience Mardi Gras. The romantic part of the trip was to arrive on a train. So I flew to Chicago first. Had lunch at Al Capone’s old joint and hopped on a train at Union Station, Chicago. An eighteen-hour train ride down to New Orleans. You saw other passengers at the dining car at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And you would have nice casual conversations with them. No one was in a hurry to go anywhere. When you travel by plane, you don’t get this. You don’t talk to other passengers anymore. Until the late ’90s, smoking was still allowed on the plane. Maybe a couple of rows in the back. I was a smoker then, so I would sit in the smoking area. Then people who were sitting in the front rows would
come down and sit next to me to have a smoke. Then we would naturally strike up a conversation. Smoking is bad, but a cigarette used to be a little tool for communication. Back on the train at the dining car, I shared a table with two old ladies from Tennessee. Then we were talking about how we used to smoke everywhere. One of the ladies said “when I had my first child on the hospital bed, I had a cigarette in my mouth. That was so wrong!”
At dinner time, I sat next to Melissa. A beautiful young wife from California. Very cheerful and friendly, “You know, I was supposed to travel with my husband but he got some important job at the last minute, so I’m traveling alone. In a way, I’m enjoying it though.”
“Where are you heading, Melissa?”
“Little Rock. I’m going to see my relatives living there.”
Little Rock. I remembered a song called “A Little Girl From Little Rock” sung by Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe.
We’re just two little girls from Little Rock.
We lived on the wrong side of the tracks.
But the gentlemen friends who used to call,
They never did seem to mind at all.
They came to the wrong side of the tracks.
Then someone broke my heart in Little Rock,
So I up and left the pieces there.
Like a little lost lamb I roamed about,
I came to New York and I found out
That men are the same way everywhere.
“Hey Melissa, can I buy you a drink?”
“Oh, maybe I shouldn’t…”
“Come on. Just a glass wouldn’t hurt.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right. Then I’ll have a red wine please.”
“Waiter, a glass of red wine for the lady and a glass of vodka and club soda with a slice of lemon for me. And put these on my bill.”
“You got it, sir.”
By the time the waiter came back with our drinks, the train made a stop.
It was St. Louis. The sun was fading away but you could still see the famous Gateway Arch.
“Melissa, it’s St. Louis.”
Her smile was as warm as the sunset…
Finally, I was standing in front of Strawberry Field.
Not the one in Central Park in New York. The one in Liverpool, England.
There was a lot of graffiti on the gate. It said there were a lot of people who had visited here before me. I started taking pictures.
The red camera that I had brought wasn’t mine. It belonged to my friend Masaharu. I had met him at a factory in Harajuku, Tokyo. I was eighteen and he was twenty. This factory manufactured ladies’ clothes. Somehow we hit it off right from the beginning. I was from Yamaguchi and he was from Shizuoka. Mt. Fuji is located in Shizuoka.
We both loved music. One day he invited me to his apartment in Kodaira, a suburban area in Tokyo. As soon as I entered his apartment, I saw a lot of pictures hung on the wall. All of them had him and a group of young people sitting in front of motorcycles.
Mmm, interesting, I thought.
“What do you wanna drink?” He asked me.
“I don’t know. What do you have?”
“Well, I cannot drink anything bubbly. So I don’t have any beer, but, I have sake.”
“Sake is fine with me”. I said it with a smile.
He was a good cook. He cooked some small dishes to snack on while we sipped sake.
After we finished the whole bottle of sake, he looked at me and said, “Can you keep a secret?”
“Yes?” I looked at him curiously.
“After I moved to Tokyo from Shizuoka, I never told this to anybody. But I trust you. I used to belong to a gang in Shizuoka. We would ride motorcycles, take drugs, and fight.”
“Oh yeah?” It wasn’t too difficult to imagine having seen the pictures on the wall. But, I didn’t say anything.
“I really like you, man. And I wanted you to know that I have that kind of past.”
“Sure, thank you for telling me.” It was like a confession from a former Yakuza guy showing me a huge dragon tattoo on his back. From that day on, we became very tight. He also told me he had just joined a rock’n’roll band. But he complained that he couldn’t play the guitar very well. And I showed off my skill on the guitar.
“Shit! You see, man! I wish I had met the guitar before the motorcycle.”
“Well, I wish I could ride a motorcycle and fight good like you, brother.”
We looked at each other and laughed, “Ha ha ha.”
One day, I told him that I was going to visit England.
“England, ha? That’s great. I know you can speak English. But I’m a fucking gangster. Will you do me a favor? Take my camera with you and take as many pictures as you can while you’re there. In that way, I feel I’m visiting there with you.”
“Sure, I will.”
That was why I was holding this red camera in front of Strawberry Field.
Then suddenly, a call of nature. I needed a bathroom desperately.
“Why now?” I cursed the sky.
Strawberry Field was located in the residential area in Liverpool and there were no restaurants or cafes.
Literally, I said “Shit!”
There was a nice park nearby and I walked into the bushes.
“Maybe I do it here.” Then I saw a lady walking her dog.
“Hi, good morning!”
God, I cannot do it here. I kept walking like a crippled person for 20 minutes.
Finally, I saw a small cafe. I rushed in and ordered a coffee and ran into the bathroom.
After I came out and sipped on the coffee thinking,
“Well, it wasn’t Strawberry Fields Forever. It was just Strawberry Fields for five minutes.”
There was a time when I took some classes at Fordham University. In the same class, there was a gorgeous looking girl with red hair from Switzerland. Her name was Gabrielle and I thought, mmm, I need to approach her. But how? One day, I saw her sitting near the entrance of the school.
I said to her, “Hey, you are in my class. What are you up to?”
“Oh, I’m thinking of going to a hair salon but I don’t know which one, since I’m new in town.”
“My friend is a hairdresser and she’s really good. Try a place called Bumble and Bumble.”
“Okay, I’ll check it out. Thanks for your advice.”
Any occasion I had, I talked to her. Then finally she opened up.
“Hey, Kaz, would you like to go see a show with me at CBGB?”
“Yes, of course!” Kazuyoshi Fujimoto from Yamaguchi, Japan, opportunity knocks!
I showed up at CBGB, then I saw her with a guy.
“Hi, Kaz, thanks for coming. Let me introduce you. This is my fiancé, Til.” I knew it was too
good to be true.
“Hi, Til. Very nice to meet you.” I shook his hand smiling.
Very handsome guy, also from Switzerland. He was an architect.
I was really disappointed but I decided to stay and see the show with them.
“By the way, who’s playing tonight?” I asked them.
“Melvins. You didn’t know?”
I didn’t care who was playing, but, Melvins! They were a heavy, heavy, noise band! Okay, let’s see what happens. The place was absolutely packed and the show was really violent. I was okay with it since I was pretty used to this kind of show but they weren’t. They were almost fainting due to lack of oxygen.
“Are you guys okay?” I asked them.
“Maybe we are not.”
“Let’s go outside then.”
I was thinking, why these guys like this kind of band if they can’t take it? They recovered after a
while and we went back in and managed to see the show until the end.
We went to a bar on Ludlow street in the Lower East afterwards.
Til was telling me, “I’m glad Gabrielle has a friend like you. Since I’m very busy working on a project here, can you keep her company when your time allows?”
“Certainly, Til.” But I was thinking, are you sure? What makes you think that I’m safe? Then, I started taking her everywhere. Oh, god, we had such a great time together until they had to go back to Switzerland. One day, Gabrielle sent me a postcard, saying they were having their first child…
I had just turned twenty one when I took a plane from JFK to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. Most of the passengers on board were French. Oh, boy, they smoked! While I smoked one cigarette, they smoked three. Cigarettes like Gitanes. The whole plane was filled with a fog of smoke. Finally, the captain had to announce, “please do not smoke for twenty minutes. We are going to clear this smoke and have fresh air again.”
We arrived in Paris in the afternoon. Everybody went through customs with no problem except for me.
“Hey, you, come with us.” They took me to some private room.
“Open your luggage.” They took out everything from my luggage.
“Take off your shoes and socks.” I did that.
They found nothing. They were very rude.
“You can go.” I was left with this mess. It took me a while to put everything back into the luggage. This gave me a very negative impression of France. But it changed completely as soon as I hopped on a bus to the center of the city.
“Wow, what a beautiful city!” I adored the buildings and the scenery.
I checked in at a hotel near Eiffel Tower which I had booked before I left New York. Not a bad room. I turned on the radio in the room. French music started playing. “Cool. I’m in Paris now.”
What should I see first? Arc de Triomphe, perhaps. It wasn’t too far from my hotel, I walked there crossing the bridge over the river Seine. I got to the famous gate. It was a lot bigger than the one you saw in Washington Square Park in New York.
Then a young girl spoke to me in French.
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak French”. I told her.
But it seemed like she still wanted to ask me something.
Finally, she said, “is this Champs-Élysées?” pointing her finger to the road that stretched out there.
So I replied. “Yes, this is Champs-Élysées. Yes, I think so.” She wore a satisfied smile.
She needed someone’s confirmation. It didn’t matter where it came from. Even if it came from a Japanese guy who just got here from New York.
“Merci.” She left. She must have come from some other part of France.
I started walking along Champs-Élysées. It’s cliché but the famous song played in my head. “Oh Champs-Élysées, oh Champs-Élysées, Au soleil, sous la pluie, à midi ou à minuit, Il y a tout ce que vous voulez aux Champs-Elysées.”
Suddenly I was hungry. Then I saw Mcdonalds. It was kind of stupid to have your first meal in Paris at Mcdonalds, but I was tired and wanted to avoid all the troubles I would encounter ordering at a regular restaurant. So I walked in. I couldn’t believe my eyes. All the girls working behind the counter were so gorgeous! Any of them could be on the cover of Vogue magazine.
I still remember when I first went to a Mcdonalds in New York, it was scary. My English wasn’t that good and they had zero tolerance for foreigners. It was like “order now or I’m gonna beat you up”.
Anyway, I walked toward the ordering counter.
A beautiful girl smiled at me and asked,
“Bon jour. Qu’est-ce que vous voulez?”
“Ah, Big Mac meal, please.”
“Quelle boisson voulez-vous?”
“Ah, coca-cola, please.”
“Quelle taille? grand, moyen ou petit?”
“Ah, a big one. Just give me a big one!”
Somehow I was able to order what I wanted.
After I finished my first meal in Paris, I continued my walk along Champs-Élysées.
And I noticed something. Everybody was wearing purple pants. Maybe it was in fashion.
But it was very funny. In Tokyo, Rome, and Paris, when something was in fashion, everybody followed. Everybody wore the same thing. But in New York? No. It’s always all fucked up. We wear whatever we want. Democrats think they control New York? No. Republicans think they have some say in it? No. It’s above politics.
It was New Netherland before it was New York. They didn’t welcome everybody but they accepted them. Jews, Turkish, Indians… 13 different languages were spoken in New Netherland which took everybody by surprise who visited. Maybe I’m not welcome here but at least I’m accepted here.
With that in mind, I kept walking on the streets of Paris.
Again I thought, “what a beautiful city!”.
And all the girls I saw were drop-dead gorgeous.
If I closed my eyes and threw a stone in any direction, it would hit a cute girl.
And I remembered a scene in the movie “Breathless” by Jean Luc Godard. In this scene, Jean Paul Belmonde buys the Herald Tribune from Jean Seberg who is selling it on the Champs-Élysées. So I bought it, too.
Then I bought a bottle of red wine and a pack of Marlboro and went back to my hotel.
Kaz Fujimoto was born in Japan and lived in London. He got broken-hearted in Paris and got drunk in Dublin. Then, he found himself singing his original gypsy-rock songs in New York. He also writes short stories with his drunken pen. Follow him on Facebook @kazmo.groove.
Elliot Schei aka Djoto Eschei is a musician and artist based in Tokyo, originally from the U.S. He writes electronic music and creates digital artwork and experimental video. His focus is on coding experimental audio & image processing algorithms from scratch, adding controlled chaos at a very low-level in order to produce music and art with unique character. Follow him on twitter @central_ganymede_bass_warriors, or on Soundcloud, Basecamp, or Facebook.
Russell Parrish is a Brooklyn based artist, illustrator, painter, digital artist and photographer. Work has been covered in the New York Times, Village Voice, Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune, and USA Today, among others. Follow him on Instagram @Inkidibles and @RussellParrish