Archive for the Travel Category

Japan’s Kumano Kodo pilgrimage [book review]

Posted in Books, Mountains, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2019 by xi'an

When preparing our hiking trip to the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route, I was extremely pleased to find a dedicated guidebook that covered precisely the region we wanted to explore and provided enough background material to make the walk sound feasible. However, once I found the Kumano Travel reservation website, run most efficiently by the Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau, the information contained in this site made the guidebook less relevant. And when we arrived in Tanabe at the start of the trail, I found that the Bureau was also distributing free leaflets in English for each of the three main routes, which described day-by-day the stages of the hikes, as well as recommendations and tips. Making in the end or a posteriori the guidebook superfluous. (As the detailed description of the routes was not necessary, given how clearly they are identified. The leaflet managed to stand the five days on the trail despite rain, humidity, frequent consultations and a general lack of care, as shown above!)  Hence, while there is nothing wrong with the guidebook which also includes an extra day-hike along the Eastern coast of the Kii peninsula and another one from Koyasan to the bottom of the cablecar [again covered by leaflets at the local tourism bureau], I would not strongly recommend it. Interestingly (?), when I stated these mere facts as a review on Amazon, I was rejected as contravening their review guidelines without further precision… (I can only post comments on the French portal of Amazon as my associate gains mean that I never “buy” anything on the US portal!)


über Salzburg [jatp]

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2019 by xi'an

temples on Mount Koya

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on September 1, 2019 by xi'an

trailers versus mountaineers?

Posted in Kids, Mountains, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2019 by xi'an

A slight altercation in a swimming corridor during lunch put me back into this Le Monde paper I read yesterday about (real?!) mountaineers being annoyed at trailers, especially those currently running the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB). A lady stopped me from going further for not crawling as this was a “crawl only” lane and started a lengthy tirade that I cut short by moving to another lane. I find such debates pretty absurd and rather hypocritical. When the fundamental goal is mostly to reduce the number of people on the trails, in the mountains, or in the pool by creating categories with those in and those out. This seems an unavoidable human trend that happened several times in mountaineering, from the early days when going above a certain limited was prohibited to those when climbing solo, rope-free, mixed style, without a registered guide or certificate, &tc. base-jumping, was or became taboo. It is annoying to see crowds in the mountains, whether on the Everest final sketch or on the UTMB track, for sure, but by nature these are singular events and the next peak is almost surely free. It is also annoying to find other climbers on one’s chosen route as they will certainly cause delays, but this is the nature of the game and the next route may well be free. I thus find pretty annoying that some claim their rights to enjoy mountains are higher or purer than others, whom they accuse of elitism and ill-placed competition, when themselves are far from free of the same defect.


FALL [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2019 by xi'an

The “last” book I took with me to Japan is Neal Stephenson’s FALL. With subtitle “Dodge in Hell”. It shares some characters with REAMDE but nothing prevents reading it independently as a single volume. Or not reading it at all! I am rather disappointed by the book and hence  sorry I had to carry it throughout Japan and back. And slightly X’ed at Nature writing such a positive review. And at The Guardian. (There is a theme there, as I took REAMDE for a trip to India with a similar feeling at the end. Maybe the sheer weight of the book is pulling my morale down…) The most important common feature to both books is the game industry, since the main (?) character is a game company manager, who is wealthy enough to ensure the rest of the story holds some financial likelihood. And whose training as a game designer impacts the construction of the afterlife that takes a good (or rather terrible) half of the heavy volume. The long minutes leading to his untimely death are also excruciatingly rendered (with none of the experimental nature of Leopold Bloom’s morning). With the side information that Dodge suffers from ocular migraine, a nuisance that visits me pretty regularly since my teenage years! The scientific aspects of the story are not particularly exciting either, since the core concept is that by registering the entire neuronal network of the brain of individuals after their death, a computer could revive them by simulating this network. With dead people keeping their personality if very little of their memories. And even more fanciful, interacting between them and producing a signal that can be understood by (living) humans. Despite having no sensory organs. The reconstruction of a world by the simulated NNs is unbearably slow and frankly uninteresting as it reproduces both living behaviours and borrows very heavily from the great myths, mostly Greek, with no discernible depth. The living side of the story is not much better, although with a little touch of the post-apocalyptic flavour I appreciated in Stephenson. But not enough to recover from the fall.

Among other things that set me off with the book, the complete lack of connection with the massive challenges currently facing humanity. Energy crisis? climate change? Nope. Keep taking an hydroplane to get from Seattle to islands on Puget Sound? Sure. Spending abyssal amounts of energy to animate this electronic Hades? By all means. More and more brittle democracies? Who cares, the Afterworld is a pantheon where gods clash and rule lower beings. Worse, the plot never reaches beyond America, from the heavily focused philosophical or religious background to the character life trajectories. Characters are surprisingly unidimensional, with no default until they become evil. Or die. Academics are not even unidimensional. For instance Sophie’s thesis defence is at best a chat in a café… And talks at a specialist workshop switch from impressive mathematical terms to a 3D representation of the activity of the simulated neuronal networks. Whille these few individuals keep impacting the whole World for their whole life. And beyond… By comparison, the Riverworld series of Phillip José Farmer (that I read forty years ago) is much more enjoyable as a tale of the Afterworld, even if one can object at “famous” people been central to the action. At least there are more of them and, judging from their (first) life, they may have interesting and innovative to say.

the (forty-)seven samurai (赤穂浪士)

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2019 by xi'an

During my vacations in Japan, I read the massive (1096p) book by Osaragi Jiro on the  Akō incident, with occidental title the 47 rōnins. Which I had bought in Paris before leaving. This is a romancized version of an historical event that took part in 1701 in the Genroku era. Where 47 rōnin (leaderless samurai) avenged the death of their former master Takumi no Kami ordered by the current Shôgun after Takumi no Kami stuck an official Kira Yoshinaka who had insulted him publicly. And were also condemned to commit sepuku. (As I suspected while reading the book, it was initially published in 1927-1928 as a series, which explains for its length.) This is a very famous story in the Japanese culture and there exist many versions in novels, plays, movies, one featuring the fabulous Toshirō Mifune (and another one commissioned by the Japanese military during WWII), and prints, including some by Hiroshige and Hokusai. Not only it is a great read, with a very classical style (in the French translation) and enough plots and subplots to deserve the 1096 pages!, but it also reflects [much more than in Yoshikawa’s Musashi] upon the transition from feudal to modern Japan, with the samurai class slowly dwindling out for the merchant class and a central administration. Which the central characters in the book mostly bemoan and hence praise the chivaleresque action of the 47 rōnins, fighting against superior forces, except for some who reflect on the uselessness of a warrior class (and go as far as assassinating random samurai). Interestingly, the conclusion of the real story, namely the suicide of the 47 rōnins, is not included in the book. Which links the head of the revenge to famous characters of the time, including a scholar anticipating the Meiji rise of Japanese nationalism by removing cultural and religious links to China, including the preeminence of Shintoism over Buddhism. The book is also the attention paid to seasons and gardens throughout, which is a feature I found in many Japanese books. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the story involves very few female central characters and, except for one spy, very passive roles.

bye and thank you for all the fish!

Posted in pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2019 by xi'an