Friday, August 13, 2004

Quick Note from Bratislava, Slovakia

August 22nd, 2004
Quick Note from Bratislava, Slovakia
I have a lot to catch up on in regards to this journal. I have been to Hamburg and Berlin, Germany as well as to Warsaw and Krakow in Poland. I am now in Bratislava, Slovakia. I have been taking a sort of break from the internet but soon I will return with stories and tales from this leg of the journey. As to where I am going, here is my itinerary:

Vienna, Austria
Budapest, Hungary
Belgrade, Yugoslavia
Transylvania and Bucharest, Romania
Sofia, Bulgaria
Skopje, Macedonia
Tirana, Albania
Sarajevo, Bosnia
Zagreb, Croatia
Ljubljana, Slovenia
Vaduz, Liechtenstein
Lyon and Marseille, France
Tunis, Tunisia
and finally Barcelona, Spain.

It will be in Spain that this journey will end. And it will be in Barcelona where I will find home again.

With Love,

August 14th, 2004
Readings from The Travels of Dom e Niko: Essays, Thoughts, and Other Tales

Author's Note: Here is my first short story, as promised, for this site. I began writing it on a cloudy day in my hotel in Shanghai. The work is fiction; but the events, conversations, and ideas in the story do have a place in reality. I hope you enjoy it. I welcome any feedback:

The Astor House of Old Shanghai
He laid the rolled silk scroll on his bed, and took a step back. The wood floor creaked. He looked down at his old beaten shoes and thought again about why he liked the Chinese painting. It was the utter loneliness. Yes, that is it.

+ + + +
It was his first time in Shanghai. It was cloudy when he arrived. Dismal and sad; his first two impressions of the city once called, the Whore of the Orient. After checking into the Astor House, and dropping his things in his lavish 5th floor room, he decided to take walk. He walked north along the Bund until Nanking street. He turned right as soon as he passed the Peace Hotel. Walking east he thought, West is home. Where I belong. It had been 4 years since he had seen his family and childhood friends.

"Excuse me, sir," a college girl began with a sweet Chinese accent, "but, we have a gallery on the 8th floor. Would you like to come and see it?"

His first tout in Shanghai. He had traveled throughout southeast Asia and had grown bitterly numb to the elaborate stories and lies he had heard day after day from touts in Hanoi, Hue, Saigon, Phenom Phenh, and countless other cities and towns. But, she was a woman: young; not forceful; unaware of her seductive powers. So much does she have to learn, he thought remembering his long-ago college days.

"It's just this way. Where are you from?"

'Where are you from?' How many times had he heard that question in the past four months? "I'm originally from Chicago."

The girl gave a quizical look.

"- In the United States."

She pleasantly nodded her head with a smile. "Where in the United States is it?"

"Well -"

"Is it near Detroit?" she interrupted.

"No! God, no. What an aweful place. No, Chicago is on the west coast of a large lake called Michigan."

The girl smiled. It was then that he noticed her pearl earrings. He immediately thought of the women he had known in Valparaiso, Chile. He could tell though that she still had very little idea where Chicago was located.

"What kind of gallery?" he asked, changing the subject.

"We have Chinese calligraphy - Do you know calligraphy?"

He nodded yes.

"And we have traditional Chinese paintings - and modern too."

He loved art. He had many friends who were artists. He did his best to encourage them. But that was now months ago. It actually feels like years ago.

"Yes, let's go," he quickly said.

She gave a wide grin and escorted him into a century-old building. She pointed to the elevator expecting him to go in first but he didn't. He waited kindly for her to go. Pleased with his small display of chivalry she walked into the elevator. He followed.

The gallery was simply a room that was neither large nor small. Scroll paintings were hanging on all the walls. Oil canvas paintings were sitting on the floor against two of the walls. There was a table in the center of the room that was convered with smaller paintings; beneath the table were stacked green boxes that he assumed were used to pack the scrolls when they were bought and rolled.

"Are you an artist?" he asked.

"Yes, I am - Well, I only do calligraphy."

"Oh, do you have some of your calligraphies here?"

"Yes, just over here."

She led him to the opposite side of a wall partition in the room. He then saw several calligraphy paintings hanging.

"Can you read any of them?" she asked.

"No, only bit and pieces. Like that kanji - I mean character. That means school, no?" he said quietly.

"To study. That's the meaning."

"School - to study. I was almost right."

"Yes, perhaps." She walked to one of her paintings and explained, "This means plum and this is tea. These two characters give a peaceful sense. This calligraphy is meant to relax. Rest the mind. Do you know what this means?" she asked pointing to a large single calligraphy that he had never seen before.

"No, I don't know what it means," he said enjoying her sweet voice and small movements.

"It means love."

"Oh," he said a bit shocked. He then thought of the Japanese character for 'great liking' which was far different in appearance than the Chinese character for love. He took a good look and said, "That means heart and that means friend."

"Yes," she said impressed that he could identify the individual characters that made up the entire character for love.

"- But, I don't know that kanji - I mean character."

"That means house or home."

He wanted to impress her by drawing the Japanese character for 'great liking' and to explain that it was composed of the Japanese characters for woman and child. He rehearsed in his mind, There is no greater, and more pure a form of love than that between a mother and her child. But he said and did nothing.

"Where did you learn to read characters?" she asked with a peachy voice.

"In Japan."

"In Japan?"

"I used to live there."


"Yes, and while I was there I learned a few Japanese characters."

"Chinese," she said sharply. "The Japanese stole this from us."

He had nothing to say in reply.

"Over here we have more paintings. These are more traditional," she pointed to four paintings framed on silk scrolls hanging on the wall. "Each one represents one of the four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. In China we often liken the seasons to our lives. Spring is for the child; summer is youth and strength - vitality; and fall for settling down, having a family; and winter, for rest in the old age."


"Yes, and here we have another four seasons, but this is more modern. The colors are more vibrant in these paintings."

"Yes, I like these very much." He took a long moment to admire the summer painting that was composed of a vibrant green color. "How much is this one?"

"The summer one? Well, it is part of a set. I can't sell you only one. For all four it is 1,500 wong."
"Oh," he said disappointed.

He then looked to a series of paintings of warriors armed with pulled bows riding on horses. "I like these. Particularly this one."

"This is by a more famous painter. They are Mongolian riders hunting."

"How much is this one?"

"300 wong."

"Oh," he said, "that isn't so bad."

"You should buy it. It's meaning is success."

He instantly thought of his father and decided that he would buy it. But before he would declare his decision he wanted to continue looking for he wanted to spend more time with the girl. Then he saw it. It was a painting that was far different to his eyes from all the others. He took a closer look and saw that the painting was of an enormous cloudy sky hovering above the tiniest tree at the edge of a straight and bare cliff. It was a sad painting. Full of loneliness. And because of that he loved it. "This is a tree?" he asked with the tone of a statement.

"No, it is of a famous Chinese poet. That crashing down above him is a waterfall - from the Yangtze river. He is walking along the edge of a sandy floor. Those tiny curved lines are birds. The poet wrote about the insignificence of himself in all the vast space of the universe. That is why he is so small and insignificant in the painting."

He was drawn to it. The story behind the painting was tragic. But, he loved it; this painting of vast nothingness. He took a few steps away from the painting to admire it some more. He then noticed that half of it was in shadow. "Can you move it? I want to see it in the light."

"Yes, she said as she quickly grabbed a pole to lift the painting and place it on a wall with more light.

He looked at the painting now in the light. The light bleached the painting. He could see that the paintings effect on him was due to it hanging in a dark place.

"Yes, I like it. I like it very much. But, it looks better in shadow, not in the light."

Although he had made up his mind to buy the painting, along with the other for his father, he wasn't prepared to leave the young girl. He quickly fished for questions to ask her and spoke:

"Are you from Shanghai?"
". . . Inner Mongolia . . ."
"When did you leave?"
". . . three years ago . . ."
"Which do you like better, Shanghai or Bejing?"
". . . Shanghai . . ."
"Do you have brothers and sisters?"
". . . one younger sister . . ."
"Which kind of paintings - or style - do you prefer?"
". . . impressionism . . ."

When he had finally left he had bought a total of three paintings. The third was for his sister and her husband. It was a traditional Chinese landscape paiting with vibrant splashes of pink for the leaves of the cherry trees. Although it should have, the painting did not remind him of Japan in the spring.

As he waited for the elevator with the girl, and took the elevator to the first floor with her, he felt the urge to ask her out for a drink when she finished work at the gallery. But, ultimately he decided against it. He knew that in the immediate end everything that attracted him to her - her sweet voice, small movements, and smile - would loose their luster and appeal, and that he would find every reason why he didn't like, or perhaps, couldn't stand her.
+ + + +
And there was the painting on his bed. He was hesitating to undo the brown ribbon knot that held the tightly rolled scroll together. He took a step toward the bed, the floorboards creaked again, and bent forward to finally untie the knot. He then held the top end of the scroll and unrolled it carefully over his bed.

There it was. The painting. And he stared at it. The darkly lit room began to fade. There was only the painting.
+ + + +
"Sir, would you like to come in and see some paper-cuttings?"
"No, no thank you," he said in the bazar of the old Chinese quarter of Shanghai.
She approached him. He was standing on the side of the street. "Where are you from?"
"From Canada," he lied. "Toronto."
"Oh, yes. I know it. We´ve had many customers from there. Would you like to come in?"
"No, no. I've already bought a few paintings today."
"But, these are traditional Chinese paper-cuttings. Very cheap. For your girlfriend - Do you have a girlfriend?"
"No," he blushed.
"You should get a Shanghai girl. They are very nice. Very good for you."
He didn't reply. What does she mean I should get. Are they for sale too? he thought with a sarcastic grin.
"Why are you smiling?"
"No, nothing."
"Please, come in. Just looking. You don't have to buy anything."
"Look, I'm wasting your time. I'm not going to buy anything."
"Are you waiting for a taxi?" she asked finally noticing that he was standing in the street.
"No, I want to take a picture of this street."
"Oh, go ahead. I wait."
He looked behind to make sure no cars were approaching and then stepped quickly toward the center of the street. He turned on his digital camera, framed the street in a way he found pleasing and took a picture. The picture he had taken appeared on the small monitor of the camera. He looked at the image and, satisfied with it, turned the camera off and walked back onto the sidewalk.
"Now you can come in." She took his hand and pulled gently. He like being touched by her. He looked at her and decided to go into her shop.
"These are all handmade and uniqe. No two are alike."
He looked at the many framed paper-cut pieces. There were animals, images of Mao, as well as cute Chinese children in traditional dress. He could see the price tags on the pieces and agreed that the paintings were indeed cheap.
"Do you like this one?"
"Which one?"
"This one. I thought you were looking at this one?"
"Oh, no."
"Do you know its meaning?"
"No, I don't." Obviously he thought.
"It's my favorite one. It was made by my mother. Most of these are hers. This is her shop."
"Oh," he was now intrigued.
"It is called, 'Love is like a Bird'."
He looked at the paper-cutting and tried to understand how that meaning could be derived from it. All he saw was a young woman with flowers all around her and a white dove flying above her head.
"Do you like it?"

"Yes," he lied again.

"My mother says love is always on our minds. We may try to distract ourselves to not think about it. But, in the end the thoughts of love keep coming back to us. Like a bird that we free but soon returns."

"Oh," he said. He liked the story behind the cut-out. He liked it more than the cut-out itself.

"Do you want to buy it?"

She then ruined the moment for him. He found his slight attraction to her disappear in an instant. He realized that he was just another sale, and decided that the story she told him was probably false.

"No. I told you that I wasn't going to buy anything." He began to walk to the door.

"We have many more. You don't need to buy anything for your girlfriend?" she rushed to say.

"I already told you," he began disappointed that she had already forgotten what he had already explained, "I don't have a girlfriend."

"I know. I didn't mean that. Your friends," she said eagerly.

"No," and he left.

As he walked away he thought about the story and agreed that love is always on our minds.

+ + + +
The painting stared back at him. He looked and found a strong understanding with the old poet in the painting. He knew what it felt like to be completely alone, and to be reminded of it by the vast spaces found in nature: like when standing in a desert, or when watching the sun set into an unending ocean from a cliff.

He thought of the mountain he had climbed in Gyeongju, in Korea. At its summit he sat in peace and enjoyed the winds as they caressesed his forearms and shaved scalp. Upon that summit, he felt all the distance between him and his family: vast oceans and continents. So far was he from those he loved. He thought for a moment of the life he had left behind in Japan and the short and failed relationships he had had there.

He wondered if he would ever marry and how difficult it would be for him to settle into giving up his long-time affair with solitude.

He looked at the vast waterfall falling over the poet in the painting. And then he thought of her. Yes, her; still there, lingering in his mind. She was far from him; perhaps months away. He didn't know her. Not, at all. And his mind was too old and worn to fantasize and dream. It was then that he knew, that for the rest of his journey he would be condemned to think about her. She would haunt him. Yes, she would haunt him until the end.

And so he stared at the poet in the painting, standing all alone, in room 502, in the Astor House of old Shanghai.

This Work of Words was composed by Domenico Italo Composto-Hart
Copyright Protection 2004

August, Friday the 13th, 2004 - Berlin, Germany
The Travels of Dom e NiKo: Essay, Thoughts, and Other Tales

My state of mind is changing during this leg of my journey. Asia still lingers in my mind. But, I am now here in the "West"; traveling through the lands of my ancestors.

There is a lot that is going through my head now. Thoughts of the past, the present, and the future. Thoughts of life and death. Of love, and solitude.

These feelings need an outlet. And so from this point forth, until I return to my home in the land beyond the Gates of Hercules, I will begin sharing with you stories that I have been writing during this journey.

These stories share a common theme: solitude, loneliness. And within these stories you will find elements of magic and hope.

I hope you will enjoy them as much as I have enjoyed writing them. I will post my first short story within the next day or two :)

Sincerely yours, in Mind and Spirit,

Monday, August 09, 2004

Copenhagen, Denmark - August 5th to 7th, 2004

An inviting tattoo shop, Copenhagen.

Copenhagen, Denmark - August 5th to 7th, 2004
A Small Gallery of Photo´s
Well, after 5 months of typing about my travels you can now see them. I am now in the home of my uncle Joachim in Hamburg, Germany. Here I have found a warm and pleasant place to rest and prepare for the next couple of months of travel ahead. Most importantly though I have given my backpack a good scrubbing and cleaning.

Below I have posted an assortment of photo´s that I took in Copenhagen, Denmark. Instead of describing thís city to you I will simply allow your eyes to wander. And so enjoy :)

Domenico "Itachan" Composto by Hello

Storkespringvandet, or Stork Fountain, Copenhagen. Posted by Hello

Relaxing on grass because they ain´t got a beach along Inderhaven river, Copenhagen. Posted by Hello

The Tivoli amusement park in the center of Copenhagen. Posted by Hello

Diving into Inderhaven river, Copenhagen. Posted by Hello

Everyone about to watch a movie in the square that sits before city hall, Copenhagen. Posted by Hello

The canal veering around the man-made island of Slotsholmen, Copenhagen. Posted by Hello

At the top of a spiraling tower, Copenhagen. Posted by Hello

Looking at the Royal Reception Chambers, Copenhagen. Posted by Hello

You are now entering Christiania, Copenhagen. Posted by Hello

One of the many walls that have been painted in Christiania, Copenhagen. Posted by Hello

Jazz Bar in Christiania, Copenhagen. Posted by Hello

The Statue of Bishop Absalon, Copenhagen. Posted by Hello

The Square before Radhus (City Hall), Copenhagen. Posted by Hello

The Royal Theatre, Copenhagen. Posted by Hello

Nyhavn Canal, Copenhagen; it was dug 300 years ago. Posted by Hello

Church and Citadel, Copenhagen. Posted by Hello

The Little Mermaid Posted by Hello