Lengthening shadows. Shortening days. The restoration of cares and the quotidian. Is it any wonder that after a month of vacation in August, the French seek solace in headlines and talk shows replete with the psychological perils of la Rentrée, which translates, ominously but accurately, like a curse or a Hollywood horror flick, as The Return?
But gentle reader, it needn't be so. Rather than a plunge into the cold sobering tub, why not glide into a tepid pool and slowly, even luxuriously ... acclimate? I like to think that was the wisdom behind the splendid choice of location for the recent G20 Summit, the largest and most prestigious international political pow-wow ever held on Chinese soil, which concluded September 6th in the fabled city of Hangzhou.
Ah, Hangzhou! Capital of the Middle Kingdom under several dynasties, your natural beauty has been professed by poets, reflected by artists, and an
inspiration to imaginations for well over ten centuries. Did not Marco Polo proclaim you "the most beautiful and magnificent city in the world" when he
visited in the 13th century, when your population of over one million made you the greatest metropolis in the world? (He did.) Is there not a Chinese adage
that states "up there is heaven, down here is Suzhou and Hangzhou"? (There is.) And cannot the cornerstone of Hangzhou's often misty mystique be found
in its luminous West Lake, which even in the 10th century was making waves by getting raves like these lines by the Song Dynasty poet Su Dongpo:
Misty mountains shrouded by rain;
Plainly or gaily decked out like Xizi;
West Lake is always alluring
OK, maybe that reads more mellifluously in original Chinese. Regardless, Hangzhou, and in particular its West Lake, is a bastion of natural beauty that has long acted as tonic and retreat from the maddening crowd. It remained true after Kublai Khan breached Hangzhou's walls, conquered the Song and united China. True for the Ming and Qing emperors. Even true for Mao, who came regularly to West Lake, where he often would disappear in lakeside villas to read and write (wait for it) poetry.
Today Hangzhou has a population of over nine million. As the birthplace and home of e-commerce giant Alibaba, it also serves as China's start-up capital and version of Silicon Valley. But given the size of Chinese metro areas, nine million is relatively bucolic. The location of the West Lake also remains unimpeachable, with a backdrop of verdant hills with treetops punctuated by pagodas. And as Hangzhou is a mere 45-minute high-speed, 250 mph train ride from downtown Shanghai (population in excess of 25 million), it's safe to say the city, and West Lake in particular, represents a retreat that is cultural, spiritual and physical. Call it a Sino Trifecta!
At the start of the Labor Day weekend, I watched the leaders of Germany, Britain, France, Japan, China, Canada and President Obama arrive in Hangzhou, and I
hoped they would have a moment to walk along West Lake's willow-lined paths, see the Leifeng Pagoda in evening glow, traverse the Su or Bai Causeways, and, perhaps
most of all, watch the moon rise from the Moon over the Peaceful Lake in Autumn. Among its series of structures is a platform that provides the perfect place to
admire the moon. There, one can feel the stillness. Even when faced with the whirlwind. Or la Rentrée