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Farewell, Real World

Farewell, Real World
by Haruki Murakami
Translated by Christopher Allison

First, you get a boat at Uranopolis.

Any pilgrimage around to the Athos Peninsula begins there and ends there. You depart from there and then, assuming you have a mind to come back, you return there.

Uranopolis is a small seaside resort town at the neck of the Athos Peninsula. The boat leaves at 7:45 every morning from the harbor here. That's the only boat all day. It is thus a good plan to get there the day before if possible, stay the night at a hotel, have a leisurely breakfast, and leave yourself a comfortable margin to catch the boat. If you miss that boat, you have to wait 24 hours, bottled up in Uranopolis, whereupon you find yourself confronted with quite a grave situation (as we were thus confronted).

The trip from Uranopolis to Daphne by boat takes about two hours. Two hours is a perfect amount of time to lie on the deck and lazily get a suntan, and during those two hours, the world unmistakably divides into two distinct aspects. There is a decided difference in character between the two towns, Uranopolis and Daphne. The two villages had different origins in the first place, and the standards and values that reign in each town now are totally different. If the kind of people living there are different, then the directions of their desires will be different. To put it simply, Uranopolis is devoted to the vulgar, worldly desires of the likes of us, while, on the other hand, Daphne is devoted to integral truth and universality and the nurturing of faith. Moreover, these two towns, so different in every conceivable detail, were separated by a scant one day fairy ride.

In Uranopolis--which, by the way, means "heavenly town"--there are lots of small hotels and bars and beaches and a wharf and campers with Gernam license plates parked by the side of the road in narrow spots. It is the kind of town where, if you walk any one street from end to end, you will see pretty much everything there is to see. A beautiful beach, an astoundingly large parking lot (probably because people who are departing for Athos leave their cars here), and the wharf. For some unknown reason, there is an old stone tower. A sign reading "Wir Sprechen Deutsche" hangs above the entrance to the bar. There is the signature aroma of calamari frying in oil. A girl in a swimsuit wearing dark sunglasses drags her flip-flops as she lazily crosses the street. Somewhere in the background a Michael Jackson song flows from a boom-box at an obnoxiously high volume. It's bad, It's bad...

In the shade, a large dog is sleeping so soundly that he seems to be on the boundary between life and death. A backpacker grips a fifty-cent loaf of bread in his hand as though it were vital to future generations, as he walks along the road. At the Cafe Neon, the local grey-beards sit side-by-side smoking cigarettes, polluting the air around them and their own lungs. It is your average low-budget Greek beach resort. Except that this is the last one. This is the minor terminus of our meagre reality. From here on out, there are no girls, no taverns, no Michael-Jackson-in-the-background, no German tourists. Yeah, this place is the end of the line. Last chance to fulfill any cravings. This is the frontier of the real world.

Having missed the ferry, we tracked down a boat at the port that was shipping construction supplies to Daphne, and after negotiating with the captain, paid him 3000 yen and got a ride. We were the only passengers. But at least we didn't end up having to waste a day in Uranopolis.

At any rate, the sea was incredibly beautiful. After we had only gone a short distance from the harbor, we seemed to enter into a new region. I leaned over the handrail for a long time, staring down into the sea without tiring of it at all. Greece is a place with lots of beautiful ocean, but I can't remember any place where the ocean was as gorgeous as here. If you're looking for beautiful transparent blue water, you have lots of places to choose from. But this ocean's beauty was a totally different kind of beauty. How can I say it? It was a blue whose transparency seemed to open onto a completely different dimension. The water was as clear as the vacuous reaches of outer space, and was dyed a deep wine-color. That's it: it was a blue that befuddled my eyes, like wine brewed from the soil at the bottom of some trench had bubbled up and stained the water. There was a bracing coolness there, a fertility, and a terrifying depth that surpassed the realm of possibility. And the strong sunlight of a late summer morning violently cut through it like a knife, and burst asunder as it refracted through the water. The boat's shadow was projected in sharp outline against the sea-floor. Schools of fish cut through it soundlessly. The sea was not dirty at all. Wherever you happened to look, there was nothing that could be called pollution. It didn't even seem proper to call this the ocean. Suddenly, I could envision some kind of ritual before me; a sacrifice from an unimaginably distant time, carried out according to form, whose simple kernel of beauty pierced through even while the original meaning was lost. That's the kind of thing I imagined.

The sea there was really as beautiful as that.

As the boat advanced through that ocean, the frying calamari and the swimsuit girls and Michael Jackson and the Marlboro billboards and everything else gradually receded into the distance. And then, almost unnoticed, they disappeared. Once they had disappeared, the mere fact of their existence became foggy in my mind. The only things that met my eyes were the rugged coast of the peninsula and the cliff faces. And as we went along the coast, little by little I began to make out the austere forms of the monasteries, like a time warp to the middle ages. This was Athos.