Saturday, April 25, 2009

Red mountain majesties

This is Red Fuji (Southern Wind, Clear Sky) by Hokusai.

It is the second print--and the second-most-famous print--in his renowned series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji; in both cases, The Great Wave off Kanagawa comes first.

I bought a poster of this image last year and hung it in my living room at college. "I come from the mountains," I explained to my housemates, "and I miss them when I'm on the East Coast."

Perhaps it is an exaggeration to say that I "come from the mountains," since Portland is not particularly high in elevation, but still, on a sunny day you can at least see a couple of genuine glacier-capped peaks, which is more than can be said for New York State.

People like me love making fun of Easterners who think that the Catskills (tallest peak: just over 4000 feet) are "real" mountains. But when I went to France, and gave my host family a calendar featuring Oregon photographs, and worked out the height of Mount Hood in meters just so I could tell them accurately (11250 feet/3429 meters), they gave me a look as though I wasn't describing a "real" mountain at all. "Oh! It's like the Pyrenees!" they said, smug in the knowledge that Mont Blanc, the highest of the Alps, lies within their borders.

No one would ever say that Mount Fuji isn't a "real" mountain though, and it's not that much taller than Mount Hood (12388 feet/3776 m). You could think of Hood as Fuji's kid sister--the smaller, rougher version. Fuji is the most-climbed mountain in the world and Hood is the second-most-climbed; Fuji has an exceptionally symmetrical cone while Hood has a few lumps on it; both are located pretty close to big urban areas, closer than is usual for such tall mountains, though of course the population of the Portland area can't compete with that of Tokyo!

My friend Lexi, who I lived with last year, didn't like my putting up the Red Fuji poster. She said it frightened her. (She's not from the mountains--grew up in New Jersey and Texas.) Somehow, that made me stubborn--since I had to defend my poster, I ended up liking it more. I bought a diary with this same image on the cover and have been using it for the last few months:

and today, while once again browsing at the used bookstore, I found this--36 Views of Mount Fuji by Cathy Davidson, a memoir of time she spent living in Japan:

The reason I bought this wasn't just because of the Hokusai print. (You know what they say about books, and covers...) No, I picked it up because I am planning a vacation to Japan in a couple of months--to visit Lexi, who is teaching English there.

And yes, she's gotten used to the mountains by now.

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