The day after my family forgot my fiftieth birthday, I decided to travel to the island of Teshima and record my heartbeat. If my husband and children weren’t going to do something special for my milestone, then I would find a way to mark it myself.
I took a bus from our home in Tokushima to Takamatsu and walked to the ferry terminal where I bought a roundtrip ticket to Teshima. The early autumn weather was perfect: not too hot, not too cold. Fleecy white clouds floated across the azure sky.
I was the first one on the pier. As I looked at the small hovercraft, I wondered if I would be the only passenger. Gradually, however, other daytrippers began to gather. Most of them were young, which is ironic, because few young Japanese people wanted to actually live in the remote areas of Japan. Because of the art, however, the islands of the Inland Sea were now a popular destination with the post-college crowd. I spotted a few young Japanese couples and a foreign woman with a nose ring. Her male companion carried a huge backpack with muddy boots dangling from a strap.
About half an hour later, we arrived at Teshima. I rented an electric bicycle and set out to explore. I rode past a small grove of olive trees. The green fruit was almost ready for picking. Soon, I came upon Umi no Restoran — the Sea Restaurant. Many of my fellow ferry passengers had already stopped here. Their rented bicycles were lined up in the parking area. I made this my first stop.
I could see through the glass windows that the indoor tables were mostly full, but no matter. On the terrace anyhow, I could gaze at the sea and the humps of green islands in the distance. I settled down in a lawn chair and pulled myself up to a table. When the waiter came by, I asked for the daily special and a glass of white wine.
Soon after, the tables on the terrace filled as well. Three tables down, a group of Americans were talking. At the table to my right, an American couple sat, thumbing their smart phones; to my left, a Japanese couple sat doing the same.
The waiter brought my wine. I took a sip, listening to the Americans three tables away.
“Did you go to the Issey Miyake store?” a woman asked.
A white ferry sailed past. A fish leapt, rippling the still water.
“I’d look like a mutant,” another woman said.
A butterfly fluttered up above.
“…sort of like a heartbeat,” a man was saying.
The waiter brought my lunch of sea bream and crusty multigrain bread. The food was fresh and beautifully prepared, the red and orange of the vegetable sauce set off by the pure white dishes. I lingered as long as possible, but there was was much to see before the last ferry at five twenty. After finishing my lunch, I paid my bill.
Back in the parking lot, I couldn’t remember how to get the kickstand on my bicycle to go up.
A tall young Western guy with black-framed glasses and bleached hair approached me. He looked like an art student.
“What’s down there?” he asked, pointing down the hill. “Is it the harbor?”
“The heartbeat thing is down that way,” I said, patting my chest. “You know, the installation by that French artist.”
“Oh, right.” I noticed his accent was Australian. He was holding a cigarette.
“Hey, do you know how to get the kickstand up?”
“Yeah, you have to push this thing first,” he said demonstrating, cigarette still in hand.
“Thanks.” I thought about asking him if he wanted to go with me, but I figured that we would run into each other again anyhow.
The island was quiet. I imagined that the people who lived in the many wooden houses, some with charcoal walls, along the way were out fishing or working on another island. After I’d pedaled for awhile, I came upon a few cows lazing in a terraced pasture. Farther along, famers were harvesting rice. I wondered if they enjoyed looking at art, and what they thought of the many foreigners who visited their island.
I coasted down Mt. Dan’yama, following signs to the beach. Once again, I parked my bike and stood on the shore for a moment listening to the waves lapping upon the sand. I went down a jungle path until I reached the rustic weathered wooden building which houses Christian Boltanski’s “Les Archives de Coeur.”
A young woman behind a desk explained that I could record my heartbeat if I wanted to, and it would be added to the archives. Or, I could just enter the art space.
“I want to record my heart beat,” I said.
She smiled and directed me into a small, private room where there was a computer and a stethoscope. I read the instructions in English and typed in a simple message: “It’s good to be alive.”
I pressed the stethoscope to my chest, clicked on “begin” and waited for forty seconds without moving while my heart went “ba BOOM ba BOOM.” When I was finished, I went back into the waiting area. The young woman prepared a CD of my heart beat for me to take home as a souvenir. “Now you can listen to your heartbeat,” she said. The rhythms of my heart had been added to those of over 40,000 others.
I opened the door to the “Archives of the Heart.” The room was dark except for a single lightbulb that hung from the ceiling. The walls were covered with many mirrors. The light pulsed in time to the percussion of heartbeats. Some were loud, like thunder. They sounded like drums, those hearts from all over the world, from people of many ages, everyone so alive.
When I left the building, I saw the white-haired Australian guy again. “That was amazing,” he said.
“Yes,” I agreed. “It was.”
I had heard that along with the olives, rice, and lemons, strawberries grew on the island. I came across a small café selling crepes, smoothies, and other sweets. I hadn’t had dessert at the Sea Restaurant and I’d been cycling all over the island. It was time for a break.
I had a cup of coffee and a strawberry crepe while sitting outside.
Before I left, I bought a strawberry roll cake to take back to my family. It was my birthday, after all, and I still hadn’t had cake.
Back home, my supper was on the table. I ate with my son. I showed him photos I’d taken of the island cats who were gathered at the port, and of the café I’d discovered with pop art décor.
“What was your purpose in going there?” he asked me.
“To see the island,” I said. What other purpose did I need?