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May, 2001

A Global Banquet Table
By George Takei

LOS ANGELES - On the first day of April, I boarded American Airlines Flight 140, nonstop from Los Angeles to Paris, France. April in Paris! My spirits soared with the plane as it rose up into the clouds. Where else but Paris, the quintessential city of light and life, to celebrate the beginning of spring.

I landed at Charles De Gaulle Airport in golden sunshine to be told by my Paris friend, Olivier Jalabert, that the sun was a rare and welcome phenomenon. Paris had been inundated by relentless rain throughout the previous month. I revealed to him that this was my southern Californian gift that I brought to Paris in my luggage. He thanked me effusively for my sunny generosity. This was going to be a glorious week.

Seven days in Paris flies by like the sparkle of a transporter. As I write this now, a month away from that dream-like week, the memories seem wrapped in golden haze. I'm still savoring Sunday brunch under a Tiepolo ceiling in the grand dining salon of the Musee Jacquemart Andre. This was the great town mansion that served as Louis Jordan's Paris estate in the classic film, "Gigi." Glowing memories of dining on Duck a'la Orange at the fabled Tour d'Argent with a glorious view of Notre Dame below. Ambling down the Champs Elysee on a Sunday afternoon together with aluminum wrapped Paris marathoners who had just finished the grueling run at the Arc de Triomphe. Strolling across the classic beaux arts bridge, Pont Alexandre, at night when -- precisely at 10 p.m. -- the Eiffel Tower begins to explode in an effervescence of sparkling lights. Glowing, luminous memories.

Some of my best Parisian experiences were serendipitous -- accidental discoveries or chance happenings. On a previous visit, we just happened to be at the basilica of Sacre Coeur, one of the highest points in Paris, on Bastille Day to learn that fireworks would be set off that evening. We laid down on the hillside grass and waited until the darkened sky turned into a Miro painting of exploding, swirling cascades of colored lights. Singularly Parisian serendipity.

On this trip, we saw the River Seine as we had never seen it before. As Olivier had told us, it had been raining heavily in Paris and the Seine had turned into a torrential force of nature. Those charming pedestrian footpaths alongside the river, where old men snooze with their fishing poles and lovers meet under the willow trees, were completely flooded over. The willow trees looked like long-haired maidens in distress clinging on for dear life bobbing against the oncoming assault of the flood. The tourist boats that cruise up and down the Seine had to be temporarily cancelled.

Our last evening in Paris was a convivial dinner hosted by Olivier, who is manager of Album, an intriguing collectibles store on Boulevard Saint Germain. The dinner was in a rustic restaurant called Les Bouchons. Among his guests was Alain Carraze, a witty television talk show host. I visited on his show and had a wonderful time chatting with him about my Star Trek experiences. Alas, it had to be in English. I speak only tourist French, but, fortunately for me, he spoke delightful English. The evening was congenial with good conversation and great food. I think it's impossible not to eat well in Paris. And at Les Bouchons we ate well surrounded by history. The heavy timbered restaurant was in a centuries old, pre-revolutionary structure on a narrow, cobbled street called Rue d' Hotel Colbert right off the Seine.

In exchange for my gift of California sunshine, I came home laden with another collection of glowing memories. Au revoir, Paris and merci boucoup, Olivier.

Almost immediately after returning from Paris -- before I could even shake off my jetlag -- I was on a Japan Air Lines 747 to Osaka, Japan. My mission was the opening of the Japanese American National Museum's traveling exhibit "From Bento to Mixed Plate" at the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka. This was the second venue for the exhibit after its first opening in Japan last November in Okinawa.

I landed at the beautiful Kansai Airport built on a man-made island on Osaka Bay. Kansai is the most well planned airport that I've had the pleasure of passing through. There is excellent traffic flow, smooth passport control, good signage, efficient taxi, train and other transportation connections, a fine hotel, restaurants galore and all the services a traveler would need. The only problem is that the island is sinking. Apparently, the engineers' calculations were a bit off. The airport is slowly descending back into the waters of the bay. But until that time, Kansai will be my favorite airport.

Japan's National Museum of Ethnology is on the grounds of the 1970 World Expo that was held in Osaka. When I arrived at the old Expo grounds, I immediately recognized the giant theme sculpture and some of the exposition buildings from my visit back in 1970. But there had been many new structures built since the exposition, among them the National Museum of Ethnology. The surrounding areas also had become quite urbanized. I thought of the plans the city of Hannover, Germany, has for the grounds of their World Expo just concluded last year.

The opening ceremony for our traveling exhibit was a big success. We were honored to have the Chancellor of Seijo University, Dr. Nagayo Homma, and a colleague of mine on the Japan-United States Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange, travel down from Tokyo to join us. The reception that followed was convivial and celebratory. Sake toasts followed one after another. The press was great. The exhibit is well launched in Osaka. Its next stop in Japan is Hiroshima.

April was the perfect time to be in Japan. It is the very peak of cherry blossom season. And right outside my hotel, the Imperial, along the beautiful Ogawa River, is the best place for cherry blossom viewing. Sachie Kubo, of the Japan Excelsior campaign, who lives in Osaka, had called and kindly offered to personally escort me on my cherry blossom viewing. She and other fans had given me a wonderful time in Osaka last November when I was passing through on my way back from Okinawa.

I had imagined Japanese cherry blossom viewing to be a tranquil, contemplative, almost poetic, experience. How wrong I was! Cherry blossom viewing in Osaka was the most raucous, congested, massive aesthetic experience I had ever encountered. It seemed as if the whole nation of Japan had turned out to view the cherry blossoms outside the Imperial Hotel. Once we were swept up in the solid, shoving, mass of humanity, free will was gone. One had to go with the flow. There were policemen with bullhorns urging the crowd to keep moving on. But the cherry blossoms were simply breathtaking. I had never seen such variety, the shades of pale pinks and whites. I had never witnessed blossoms in such abundant density. At times, we seemed to be flowing through a heavenly tunnel of pink white clouds. It was gorgeous, almost surreal and absolutely unforgettable. Sachie-san, domo arigato.

I arrived back in Los Angeles to be greeted by a script for a new television series titled "Chronicle." The series is about a New York tabloid newspaper and its crew of journalists that cover paraphenomenal events. My guest starring role in the episode titled, "Here There Be Dragons," scheduled to air this summer on the Sci Fi Channel, was that of a Chinese immigrant father whose daughter, it is suspected, might be involved with a dragon inhabiting the sewers of Chinatown. The drama is played with straight-faced seriousness. I thought it might be fun. But I was baffled by the location. It was to be filmed in San Diego, California! A New York story on location in palmy, balmy San Diego? Now, that is paraphenomenal. I phoned my agent to find out why but he couldn't explain this mystery of Hollywood either. Oh well, I thought. After all the jetting about I'd been doing this month, a quick relaxing train ride down the coast to San Diego would be much preferable to another long cross country sit on a plane to New York.

Arriving in San Diego, I was picked up at the Santa Fe Train Depot and taken directly to what the driver called, "the studio" for my wardrobe fitting. There the mystery was cleared up. "Chronicle" is produced by Stu Segall, an entrepreneur who had indeed developed a studio complex in San Diego consisting of six soundstages with all the necessary support facilities. The series was keeping film activities humming at his facility. For exterior shots, sections of downtown San Diego, with clever camouflaging of palm trees, was passing for dense, gritty New York City. How fitting for a show dealing with paraphenomena.

The week in San Diego was the perfect antidote to a month of globe girding air flights - back in make-up and in front of the cameras. The regulars on "Chronicle," Chad Willett, Rena Sofer and Reno Wilson are bright, talented and personable young performers and it was a pleasure working with them.

The weekend there was pure tonic. I went to the award winning regional theater, the Globe Theater, and enjoyed a wonderful production of "Dinner with Friends." Taking the title to heart, I had dinner with friends - Sam and Lydia Irvine at their son Ken's fabulous restaurant, Chez Loma in a charming Victorian house on Coronado Island.

The month began in Paris dining on extraordinary French cuisine with friends and concluded with superb California cuisine with friends on Coronado Island. April was a magnificent global banquet table with friends.



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