Les Parapluies de Kanuma-shi

After dropping Big Angel off at his chess club, Little Angel and I went to the nursery a few towns away for zinnias and gomphrena to supplement their window boxes. The Icelandic Poppies, pansies, primroses and English daisies had given their all and it was time. On the drive home the love theme from Les Parapluies de Cherbourg came on, along to which I mightily sang.

I was transported back to the mid 1990s when I lived and worked in Japan. My local library there had recently been rebuilt and had a fine and comfy AV station. One weekend day I settled in to watch Les Parapluies de Cherbourg; I’d never before seen it but of course was taken with the elaborate hair and clothing styles, even though it’s a sad, frustrating story. And of course I fell in love with the love theme; what a beautiful melody.

I’d done my undergrad in France, studying both Art and Slavic Languages and Literature. However in between France and Japan I’d lived and studied in Viet Nam and Russia, studied and backpacked throughout Latin and South Americas, and worked in Poland and China. Watching Les Parapluies in French with Japanese subtitles delighted me how much I understood: I was (and remain) a better writer than reader in Japanese due to my limited circle of kanji knowledge. Once outside that circle I stumble and fall, so reading the movie wasn’t beneficial.

In the town of Kanuma-shi, a stop or two before the templed town of Nikko, was a small umbrella shop, right across from the train station. Espying the parapluies of Kanuma-shi is a sweet yet foreign memory. It feels longer ago than it was, as if it occurred in a different dimension, a different lifetime, not just a different century.

In Japan I reconnected with my Japanese boyfriend from Hanoi, Nobu. I had certainly loved him as only the young and naïve can, so ferociously and completely. Seeing him again in Tokyo I thought my heart would burst right out of my chest, flying toward him like a butterfly: I completely understood Ciocio-san. He wasn’t the same, however: being back in his home country, especially one as strict and controlled as Japan, had made my Nobu of Hanoi go into deep underground hiding. The veneer of Japanese expectation was very thick. Nobu’s father was dying from stomach cancer, so I spent quite a bit of time sitting with his parents in hospital; his mother was so sweet, so tender. His father and I read Little House on the Prairie together, which I hadn’t read since I was a young girl. Explaining pioneer, settler terms in Japanese was an exercise in creativity.

I was not a proponent of marriage for multiple reasons, and Nobu and I had obliquely discussed it. Rather, we’d talked about it in only the abstract, never overtly regarding the two of us. But I would’ve married him in a heartbeat, my liberal, feminist, humanist theories be damned. Imagine my surprise when late one Sunday morning, in bed, he told me that we couldn’t get together the following weekend because he was getting married … to another woman. I was struck speechless, beyond confused. He explained that it was expected of him, that in order to continue to move up the business ladder he needed to have a wife, specifically a quiet, by-the-books Japanese wife. As in Not Me, not the vivacious, gesticulating, curvy and fair Caucasian. To further demonstrate how much he’d changed since we’d loved one another in Hanoi, he thought we could continue our relationship after his marriage, during which “of course” he’d have sex with his wife and “of course” they’d have a child. Of course?

I fled. I fled and I cried and I cried and I went into a downward spiral. I am not an ice cream lover so I didn’t put my heart back together utilizing that old chestnut. Instead, my best friend in Tokyo, a Quebecois man, appointed me the librarian of the GLBT society of Japan: I traipsed through ni-chome, the gay red light district of Shinjuku, purchasing gay porn to send to whomever in the country requested it. It got me outside my apartment and outside my head, because I had aucune idée about gay porn. Fascinating, eye-opening stuff!

I’d already taken a sabbatical during which I’d lived and worked in Krakow, Poland, and I think Nobu’s breaking of my heart was the final nail in the coffin of my time in Japan. I took a job in Beijing, teaching pedagogy. I did return to Tokyo to work on my PhD, but then, ultimately, I needed to leave Japan. My life there was too tainted with Nobu. An American man, a Caucasian American man, was taken with me but he met me through a lesbian couple whom I’d met through the GLBT society, so he assumed I was a lesbian as well. I hadn’t realized until later that he was into me, and I regretted not letting him know I was straight so maybe I could’ve exorcised some of the Nobu nostalgia.

My Quebecois friend and I went to Kobe together; it was summer, hot and humid. We went to the Häagen-Dazs shop where all the ice creams were labeled, of course, in Japanese. All but one: it was a beautiful pale green color and it was written in the roman alphabet “GREEN TEA.” The shop didn’t want the foreigners to think it was mint based upon its pretty color. Q’s Japanese was and is stellar, so when we got the front of the queue he loudly requested “mint-o, onegaishimasu.” (mint, please) Because I am a 100% horrible person I laughed so hard something came out my nose; those sweet, polite ice cream workers were confused and flustered, trying to appease the enormous lumberjack (Q) and his little convulsing friend (me).

The H.J. put the window boxes up outside the boys’ bedroom windows a few years ago, solely at my behest. He also rigged an elaborate system of automatic irrigation for them. He did it all for me.

He may be and often is an Olympic-class jackass, but he never led me on. He never loved me while marrying another. He may be a slob, but even after fifteen years, he tells me daily he loves me and how he cannot believe he gets to be married to someone so beautiful.

That’s gotta be worth something.

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