How to go for Long Walks Long Walks Long Walks in the Rain in Kyoto
Hello. It is currently raining in Kyoto. I am currently walking in the rain in Kyoto. This is not a drill, friends. This is happening. I had to double-check with my body to make sure it was okay with this. It was — very okay with this. The rain was light, the temperature was perfect, and I had a stupid grin on my face for the entirety of my walk. I walked from Kita-Kōńō to Gion Corner (about 4km) and back (about 3km), and then up to Arashiyama (about 4km) and back (about 2km). The whole trip took me about six hours, including a bunch of stops along the way.
The first thing I did when I got out of bed was put on all my rain gear. Hats, gloves, boots, waterproof pants, waterproof jacket. Then I walked into the rain without looking back. This felt like a great decision. It’s hard to explain how good it feels to walk in the rain without an umbrella or hood or any of that stuff. You feel it on your face, on your arms, on your back, on your legs — it’s just everywhere and it’s so good. Like being inside a giant brazier that’s been turned up a bit too high. It’s like you’ve been walking in a desert for weeks and weeks and suddenly you are submerged in water. You can feel the moisture seeping into your bones and joints and muscles and brain cells and bloodstream and everything else — everything else that has been so very dry for so very long — oh man is this good — oh man is this so very good — oh man is this so very good — oh man is this so very good —
… And here is where the language model broke. Well, sort of broke. So very broke. So very broke in its own special way. The above (unedited) text was generated by Bruno Bornsztein, a reader of Ridgeline who trained a model on my “corpus.” Out popped the above. I like it. It is silly. It offers a bit of insight into the quirks of a writer. It’s almost like a “trope detector:” Here are the things you tend to do. Like a bit of a fun house mirror. Your brain, but not your brain. But not not your brain.
It’s full of confident goofiness. There is no Kita-Kōńō, nor is there a Gion Corner (well, of course there is a corner in Gion). The distances are bizarre. I love the optimism of it, and I’m glad that comes through — that is, I’m glad I have contributed a corpus of optimism to the greater walking knowledge-sphere.
It continues on; I love where it goes:
And then you start walking, and you realize: “Oh! I can walk in the rain!” And you do a little jig to celebrate this fact, and then you keep walking because you can walk in the rain, and then you do another jig because you can walk in the rain, and then you think about how much walking you can do in the rain because you can walk in the rain, and then you do another jig because you can walk in the rain, and then another jig because you can walk in the rain, and then another jig because you can walk in the rain —
Again, a wee bit insane. But joyfully insane.
And then: “Oh! I can walk in the rain!” And then: “Oh! I can walk in the rain!” And then: “Oh! I can walk in the rain!” And then: “Oh! I can walk in the rain!” And then: “Oh! I can walk in the rain!” And then: “Oh! I can walk in the rain!” And then: “Oh! I can walk in the rain!” And then: “Oh! I can walk in the rain!” And then: “Oh! I can walk in the rain!” And then: “Oh! I can walk in the rain!” And then: “Oh! I can walk in the rain!” And then: “Oh! I can walk in the rain!” And then: “Oh! I can walk in the rain!” And then: “Oh! I can walk in the rain!” And then: “Oh! I can walk in the rain!” oh man is this good — oh man is this so very good — oh man is this so very good — oh man is this so very
Which, yes. I guess if you feel that great about walking in the rain, write it out! There is some Gertrude Stein energy here.
Another more general prompt about walking in Japan brings up some gems, creates a kind of Venice of Japan universe which, quite frankly, I’d like to see rendered out:
I’ve been walking in Japan for a few weeks now. It’s been great. I love it. I love the people, the food, the weather, the trains, the mountains, the rivers, and especially the alleys. The alleys are my favorite part of Japan. They are everywhere — narrow passages between buildings that lead to tiny plazas with vending machines and benches and trees and sometimes even small shrines. You can walk for hours through these alleys without ever touching a main road or highway. It’s like having your own personal tunnel system built by humans over hundreds of years. And they are so well maintained! The walls are painted white; there is no graffiti; there are no piles of trash; there is no litter on the ground (at least not compared to other parts of Asia). It feels like you’re walking through a giant museum exhibit about how to maintain an alleyway. The alleys feel sacred in their upkeep — as if they were designed by some ancient civilization to be walked upon by modern man thousands of years later. They feel like they were made for me and me alone: “Hello, modern man! Welcome to our tunnels! We have snacks here! And vending machines selling canned coffee! Please enjoy them both while you walk amongst us!”
This veneration of mythical, centuries-old alleyways — yes, I’m into this. “Especially the alleys.” This made me laugh out loud. As did: “Hello, modern man! Welcome to our tunnels! We have snacks here! And vending machines selling canned coffee!”
Then it goes on:
They also feel very safe at all hours of day and night — which is nice after coming from Tokyo where it seems like every alley has some dude lurking around its edges waiting to jump out at you with a knife or gun or camera phone pointed at your face (or all three). But here in Kyoto / Nara / Osaka / Kobe / Okayama / Hiroshima / etc., it feels like everyone is just minding their own business behind closed doors and under blankets with electric heaters running full blast against this cold winter air (which is why I came here in January — because I am insane).
“Camera phone pointed at your face” is not something I’ve written before but I do have to admit, is something that brings me great anxiety.
But it rises into a beautiful fever pitch about snow:
And then there are those special days when it snows heavily enough that everything turns white and magical: roofs turn white; trees turn white; roads turn white; cars turn white; people turn white; dogs turn white; cats turn white; pigeons turn white … everything turns white except for those black electrical boxes mounted on telephone poles that never seem to get covered in snow (but maybe they do? Maybe they do!).
“Maybe they do!” Genuine lol.
And then you walk down an alleyway lined with cherry trees that have lost most of their leaves but still manage to look beautiful against a backdrop of pure whiteness, and you think: “This must be what heaven looks like.” Or something close to that thought anyway — because your brain has turned into mush from being outside in such extreme conditions for so long (it was -10 degrees Celsius when I woke up this morning).
I appreciate the self-deprecation. The optimism. The silliness. The obsession with beauty and joy. These feel like good qualities to focus on, and it seems like I’ve been focusing on them.
I don’t have strong opinions about all this language / visual training-model generated stuff. It’s fascinating, certainly. And evolving so quickly that a statement made today will probably irrelevant next week. But it’s worth paying attention to. What is real? Who is real? Where is the value in the thing you do? Does it transcend simple style? Is it contingent on a broader conversation with the real world? Or is it just yelps of delight again and again? Yelps of delight for readers? Yelps of delight for travelers? Yelps of delight for the machines reading and learning it all?