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Travelogue D8

May 6, 2015

The third of Musée de la Confluence’s four permanent exhibits draws together materials and artifacts of all kinds relating to human culture and society: obsolete machinery, collections of pottery, wall-length explanations of technological processes, interlocking disks of astrolabes and the succession of glass lenses arrayed to track the wheeling of the heavens. To the preceding, the curators thought to add as well a complete set of Japanese samurai regalia and accoutrements. To the side of the display case is affixed a map showing the feudal highways of Japan prefiguring the high-speed rail system to replace them five hundred years later, a new transit backbone for a modern age.

From contemplating white arcs and red highlighting of the Nakasendo and lesser Kaido, I arrived at another map that I had seen in the months before and would come upon again later. Although Japan likewise figured there, the map showed not just the East Asian archipelago but the worldwide range of various continental climates as per the Köppen classification. Naturally, I found the humid continental climate variant Dfa of particular interest. This was not so much for ambivalence between dry summers or dry winters, whence the “f”, nor warm month averages above 22°C, whence the “a”. Nor did it owe entirely to its limited spread on the map. Rather, what captivated was its ability to bind together lands which could be neither farther nor further apart. For I saw only with difficulty that which held the American Midwest, the Caucasus and Honshu together. What invisible lines run through level plains, climbing foothills and mountainous islands? Try though I might, I found no such subtle thread with which to work out the pattern.

In time, the call came down from on high, and museum security began herding the public towards the exits. I managed to prolong my stay, if but for a few minutes, by taking shelter before the toilets. Though the space contains a wall-length bench, its shape makes it impossible to sit upright for more than third seconds. Conceding defeat, I instead stood,for the few minutes left to me, in the blue light which bathes the room. At the top-right corner, I noted with some amusement a door occupying the wall’s uppermost third: a maintenance passage with nothing to maintain, a portal perhaps to and from nowhere, a door which has already anticipated its own obsolescence and incorporation into some future structure on which it will stand out as little more than an architectural curiosity, a blemish.

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