Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Akureyri, 12:43 am

The photo shows the lights of Akureyri in northern Iceland, seen from the eastern shore of Eyjafjörður.

Now you may ask why the photo is slightly blurred and the people look as ghosts. That’s because I took the photo with a 15-second exposure, resting the camera for stability on the rear-view mirror of a van (I don’t have a tripod).

You may also ask – and this is not an unreasonable question what we were doing out in the open in northern Iceland on a winter night. We were looking for the northern lights.

Did we see the lights? Well, not tonight, although the skies over Akureyri were exceptionally clear. We saw the lights on Monday night outside Reykjavík, but it was overcast and the display was brief and faint.

I am in Iceland for four more days, and will keep you posted if I see anything more dramatic. In any event, I can’t help feeling that standing around in the open in subzero temperatures, often in strong winds and snow, craning my neck at the night sky looking for something elusive and fleeting, will – as Calvin’s father would say – help build character.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Didgeridoo Players of Yoyogi Park

Yoyogi Park was my favourite place in Tokyo. Often, on a Saturday, I would cycle to the park and spend a lazy afternoon reading a book, studying Japanese or strolling along the tree-shaded paths.

It is also a great place for people-watching. Yoyogi Park on weekends is an outlet for all kinds of hobbies, and since this is Tokyo we are talking about, there are some pretty quirky ones. You see people practising martial arts and ultimate Frisbee, Elvis impersonators, ukulele picnics, poodles dressed in denim. And on Saturday afternoons, by the fountains near the south-west entrance, there are the didgeridoo players.

I became friends with these three young people who practised the didgeridoo and djembe. My friendship was not without self-interest: aside from the intrinsic coolness of socialising with Japanese didgeridoo players, it was good conversation practice. They spoke no English, but they used casual modes of address and all kinds of cool street phrases which were beyond the ken of my Japanese teacher.

One day, in the failing late-afternoon light, it occurred to me to take a photograph.

Now by the time I finished the roll of film and had it developed, my stay in Tokyo was almost over. I took an extra print of the photo, and on my last weekend in Tokyo I took it to Yoyogi Park. Not without trepidation: we had never exchanged email addresses, and if the didgeridoo players weren’t in their customary place on that particular Saturday, I wouldn’t get a second chance to give them the photo. But of course they were there, practising as usual.

Some time back I bought a book called Tokyo on Foot. It’s a book of drawings by Florent Chavouet, a French graphic artist who, like me, lived in Tokyo for six months. On page 134-5, there is a hand-drawn map of Yoyogi. Chavouet was in Tokyo five years before me, but by the fountains near the south-west entrance of the park, he has drawn three didgeridoo players.

This makes me strangely happy. It looks like I need not have worried after all about missing them on my last Saturday in Tokyo: the didgeridoo players of Yoyogi Park are one of those fixed points in a changing universe.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Non-Performance

My supervisor, explaining a deal to me:
“So these guys are trying to sell off an NPL portfolio.”
“What’s NPL?” (momentarily baffled because my first association with NPL is to something else)
“Non-performing loans. They acquired these NPLs and now they’re trying to sell them off, but they’re taking a loss because the yield has been low.”
“Low relative even to expectations at the time when they were acquired?”
“Yes. They’re non-performing non-performing loans.”

Friday, 3 February 2012