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No demons

 I have just started a little journey in the United States. I have done a similar trip through Africa last year around this time of the year. This time I plan to visit the places where I can find some relevant information on some of the great American novels. I hope that I can publish a book based on these experiences eventually sometime next year.
 I visited the US for the first time back in 1974. I can’t believe it was nearly 40 years ago. Then I went to a small college in Georgia for a year. I was a 20-years old student. Just a young boy. Honestly speaking I did not know much about the South or the Civil War beyond the surface. I am ashamed to admit it now in this way.
 I had worked for a Japanese newspaper for more than 30 years until my retirement last year. I was once a correspondent for the paper in Nairobi and London. I guess after all these years and experiences, maybe I have something to contribute now for the general public in Japan. Visiting the US again and sharing my thoughts on America and its people was something I have been thinking in the recent years.
 We have a Japanese proverb that says “Wataru seken ni oni wa nai.” The literal translation is “There are no demons in the world.” My electric Japanese-English dictionary translates it into “You will find many kind people in this world.” For me it surely was proved to be true over there in Africa last year. And now again in the US it is so. I have come across many kind people since arriving at Los Angeles late June.
 R.J. and Monica were those people. I was in Salinas, California last week. It was my first destination to do a few articles on John Steinbeck, author of “The Grapes of Wrath.” I bumped into R.J. at downtown Salinas and started up a chat. He had a daughter who is keen on Japanese food. Naturally we had something to talk about. He kindly drove me in and around Salinas. I ended up at his home the next evening. There were another couple invited before me, David and Ellen. We had a really nice dinner prepared by R.J’s vivacious wife, Monica. I have felt like I have known them for a long time.
 The food was very good. For a starter I enjoyed cold bowl of vegetable salad and fruits. I had two bottles of local fruit-flavored beer. The main dish was well-roasted chicken. I had what is called artichokes for the first time. It tasted like avocado. No wonder people here call the area of Salinas Valley “the salad bowl of the world.”
 The reason I visited Salinas was it was the place of Steinbeck. He was born here in 1902 and spent his childhood days. There now stands the National Steinbeck Center near the house where he lived at downtown Salinas. In the Center I could have a glimpse of his early life through various historical items and video tapes.
 Incidentally Steinbeck who won a Nobel Prize in 1962 inspired me into this journey with his another book, “Travels With Charley in Search of America.” The book is an account of his four month trip at the age of 58 in the states to rediscover his own country. In the book he writes. “A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”
 He drove a truck, equipped with basic cooking and sleeping facility, with a travel companion, a French poodle, Charlie. He called the car Rocinante. Of course it is the name of the horse from the famed book “Don Quixote.” He named the car so as some people regarded the trip so Quixotic.
 I have been feeling a bit like Don Quixote myself lately. I had retired voluntarily from the above-mentioned newspaper, four years earlier than the ordinary and official retirement age of 60. My colleagues of my age group are still working happily there. To them my venture on my own must be just like that of the insane knight-errant of La Mancha.
 Don Quixote who goes in search of adventure to the amazement of those who know him, dies with the following words: ”Gentlemen, let us proceed fairly and softly: Look not for this year’s bird in last year’s nests. I was mad; I am now sober.”
 I am afraid I am still a bit mad.
 (In the photo, the two on the right are R.J. and Monica)

 (I will be writing this English-language column occasionally during this little journey, purely for American people I would get to know hopefully. For Japanese readers please bear in mind the fact that this is not rewritten to make it correct English by any native staff rewriter as my past English language articles which had appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, English-language newspaper. Beware of very crude English.)


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