Monday, 18 May 2015

Pay attention on days with a nacreous sky

You might be the type of person who when they see a nacreous sky like today's in Sydney you start estimating the likelihood of rain. And it's true that when I went grocery shopping on foot this morning to prepare for the week's meals I put into a pocket of my trusty blue backpack a retractable umbrella. But I also made sure while I was out to pay attention to the quality of the atmosphere today because this kind of moist air - damp but not fully precipitate, full of a sense of the sea but not raining - is especially attractive to me.

In Japan, you get skies like this often. There, the air is frequently so moist that even when it's not raining you get the nacreous sky like this blanketing the city like a light coverlet. Of course, if there are too many days with this kind of sky the air tends to get a bit frumpy and odorous so it's beneficial if days like this are interrupted on occasion by crisp days of sunshine and wind, just to clear out the dank smell of autumn. But I always liked walking around Tokyo on cold winter or autumn days like the one we are experiencing today in Sydney.

Because the atmosphere is so close you feel as if you should be inside. Going out on this kind of day therefore makes you feel like something unusual could happen at any moment. There is a suggestion of opportunity in the air when it closes in and the skies lower. What might happen around the next corner is a mystery but it feels as if there is something out there that will make a difference in your life. While I was walking down the street with a heavy backpack filled with groceries this morning I felt that sense of possibility that I remember from the days of being out and about in Tokyo with all the other busy people living there.

And as the evening comes down this sort of day can become even more intimate and appealing. In Tokyo you might find yourself in a street filled with small eateries that open in the late afternoons in order to cater to the businessman stopping by for a snack and a couple of glasses of beer on his way home to his family and a cramped apartment. Those streets with multiple stalls giving off light, the smells of cooking, and the warmth of running braziers become corridors of shared experience. If you stop by at one of those small shops you never know who you might meet. It might be an old friend, or it might be someone you have never met before.

I remember one evening in Tokyo as I was walking down one of these busy streets - busy though quiet in the dim light of the night coming on - from the train station to the hospital where a work colleague was recovering from an operation. I was in a part of the city I had never visited before. The colleague I was going to meet had been someone I had had the opportunity to talk with about work-related things on numerous occasions. I thought of him as something of a friend. Why else would I be walking down a narrow street lined with sake-ya in the early evening with the smells of barbequeued chicken and soy sauce taste soup scenting the rich air?

It's hard to say, and in fact I don't remember. There were so many days in Japan, where the air is generally more moist than it is in Australia, when I walked down unknown streets away from a train station. It wasn't always in order to visit a friend in hospital. But there was always the hint of something about to happen, just as I felt today when I went out to buy groceries at the supermarket. A hint in the cold air of an occasion developing out of nothing, out of the sheer impossibility of so much beauty.

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