NRT.

Ten years ago, as I left Narita Airport on an express train for Tokyo, I loaded A Love Supreme into my Discman. What I understood then to be the outskirts of Tokyo unfolded as a diorama just beyond my window as “Acknowledgement” churned into its motif.

I didn’t know that album very well at the time; I was just an aspiring 20-year-old aesthete who wanted to incorporate it into my cultural arsenal. And it lodged itself firmly there as it became the theme song for the things that I don’t yet understand but desperately want to.

That trip to Japan in the summer 2003 (as the guest of a former client and beneficiary of a moment of largesse I’ve yet to pay forward) was the first time that I had been fully disarmed of my ability to communicate. It scared me immensely to be at once surrounded by people and in a void.

I was overwhelmed at the time, not very well-off, somewhat primitive in many respects. I wasn’t sure that I’d ever return.

Looking back, it was essential to my development as a person, immersed in that situation in early adulthood where my only recourse was to observe and communicate using only the most rudimentary of terms. But it’s a situation I’ve learned to recognize and relish, and even sought again.

After that trip, I continued to Manila for an 8-week stay. That summer happened to be the same time Lost in Translation came out, and when I watched it upon my return, it too (however literally) occupied that thematic space with John Coltrane’s modernist jazz.

I return to that space with some frequency now, populating it with new songs to remember other thrilling encounters with my language’s permeable membrane, itself an advancing and evolving boundary. Elitism starts where the limits of your understanding begin, I’d believed long before that and held fast since.

And today, I’m going back.

Fire escapes.

I love that fire escapes is a complete sentence.

Turtles all the way down.

Last Saturday, Christina and I watched a reading of “Manahatta” by Mary Kathryn Nagle at the Public as part of their New Work Now! 2013 series. It’s a delightfully arch production, structured as a series of scenes between two time periods (17th-century Manahatta and late-2000s Wall Street, with dramatic overlaps) like Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” worth watching if you’re a New Yorker, care about Native American issues, or the peculiar interplay of indigenous people and ambitious conquerors and its long-term consequences. Its structure lends itself to juxtapositions, and even if they sometimes overreach in this play, they’re intriguing enough to merit proper staging. A scene depicting the infamous $24 real-estate deal successfully elicited a knowing, sympathetic cringe. History repeats throbs just under the surface like a subwoofer through drywall.

From all the clever chronological cross-referencing, among the more incisive and memorable fulcra was Nagle’s use of the word speak. In “Manahatta,” it means more than merely uttering words: it means a presence in the consequential moments of one’s own history. To lose the ability to speak, to have it beaten out of you, or to arrive at a consequential moment with neither the necessary language nor immediate skill to translate is pretty much terminal for one’s culture and way of life.

In both time periods, characters tell the Lenape story of the origins of life on earth: a turtle rose from the water, a tree grew from its back and sprouted a man, the tree bent over to touch the ground again and sprouted a woman. I like this story because it’s the foundation of one of my favorite cosmological epigrams.

And “Manahatta” is a rich story well-told, but a staging with sets and costumes will undoubtedly change the effect of the words (to say nothing of the stresses of syllables from show-to-show). Unlike so much of what I consume, this is explicitly a work in progress, something put forth as something that will potentially be quite different in the future (and I feel invested enough to return).

Related: I watched “Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play” in its premiere run at Woolly Mamoth last year and would recommend it to interested friends in New York who’ve ever compulsively quoted the Simpsons. I am interested to find out how too this has changed since it made its way up the 95.

Since last time: I wrapped a project in Pennsylvania with a design presentation and delivery of a pair of PDFs for functional specifications. Took a day off to take delivery of a new dresser, a vintage stainless-steel number not unrelated to tanker desks and barrister bookcases I have loved.

This weekend in theater, literature, and music: “Matilda” tonight, back to the Public on Saturday for “All The Faces of the Moon”, and the Brooklyn Book Festival and Chvrches in concert on Sunday.

Next week: a new project in Michigan opens with two days of interviews bookended by late-night flights with layovers. And before that, drinking about wireframes at the Brooklyn UX happy hour in Gowanus.

Finally: these are some awesome pictures of goats.

Apple’s sevens.

Apple 7s

Is anybody else who followed Apple’s iPhone announcement today similarly perturbed by the fact the 7 in A7 is set in Myriad and the iOS 7 is set in Helvetica?

iOS 7
It could be worse.

The dialogue between desire and possibility.

I added War From the Ground Up to my to-read list, largely based on this crystalline, headstone-worthy epigram:

As Simpson puts it, strategy is always “the dialogue between desire and possibility”. Politicians may desire an outcome but their strategy has to be tempered by the operational realities on the ground.
—Emile Simpson, as quoted in the Financial Times

Seriously, I can’t believe the concept of strategy had not been defined so damn neatly until that point in time, over steak tartare and Dorset crabs. The closest I’ve gotten to such a sweet summation is my definition of wireframes (but as anybody who works in web design well knows, nobody cares about wireframes).

The last time I consumed a book based on an such a sentence was Chandler Burr’s The Emperor of Scent, which ended with its protagonist (Luca Turin) defining metaphor as the currency of knowledge. As a half-bored 21-year-old in the backseat of my parents’ Camry on the way home from Sunday mass, I remember hearing Burr read the book’s last two paragraphs on a Studio 360 interview, and the words froze me. I knew I had to read this book, and the next day, I borrowed it from the Downey Public Library, read it in two days, and have counted it among my favorite books since. (It’s also the deepest root of my present love of perfumery.)

Speaking of favorite books, while it does not have any singular narrative thrust, Lunch with the FT is a tremendous tome for high-brow travellers in a mood for non-fiction: short articles that fit neatly into train platforms and airport lounges, public figures both familiar and obscure rendered somewhat at-ease (and occasionally in watercolor illustrations), and proceedings described with details of some of the world’s better restaurants (including receipts) – I’ll vouch for its place on your to-read list and your carry-on.