My two weeks in the States had hooping as a subtext. In between moving, Thanksgiving, wedding, set decoration, and banking I spread the hoop love as thickly as I could.
In Pittsburgh, Jean swept snow off the patio so we could hoop. She liked it and we found a hoop class not too far from her. Cousin Goldie, who I discovered is a certified NIA dance instructor, hooped it up in the living room with me. I didn't have hoops to leave behind there, but I hope I planted a seed of desire.
At Jenn's we decorated hoops that I'd had delivered from Betty Hoops. We had ten naked hoops and a box of fabric and tape. Our different personalities really came out. Mom's hoop was neatly and beautifully cross taped in sky blue and yellow. Helen patiently patchworked a hoop with all different fabrics and shiny tapes. I did two hoops with different designs. Jenn used purple fabric and pink tape on one of hers, and attempted a candy cane spiral on the other but ended up with a zebra striped hoop instead. I snagged a third hoop to decorate later and left the remaining three for them to decorate and enjoy.
Jenn & Helen learned to hoop in time to work off their Thanksgiving dinner.
Jenn's living room is just big enough for two to hoop carefully, or if three people line up just right, we can all do vertical hand hooping. The day before the wedding, Jenn & I bundled up and hooped in the backyard as the sun set. I clocked myself good on the side of my nose and had this funny red square on my face for the rest of the trip.
We took the hoops by car to Mom's house in Ephrata. Hoops are not so car-friendly, especially with luggage involved. They sort of fit in the back of Mom's station wagon, did not fit in the town car we rode in to the airport (Tod sat with them around his neck), did fit into the capacious trunk of a Volkswagen Jetta, and did not get anywhere near fitting into the trunk of a Tokyo taxi (I sat with them over my legs).
I'd hoped to meet up with some Harrisburg-area hoopers while I was in Ephrata, but I was conscripted/volunteered to help at the theatre and there was no time for hooping.
When I got to Chicago, I gave Kris one of the hoops I'd done at Jenn's and we played indoors and outdoors. When I suggested we could make more of them, we ran around town for hoop-making supplies. 3/4" 160 psi polyethylene tubing is available in Chicago, but not common.
I called in an order to Grainger, a B-to-B wholesaler who kindly accommodated my needs, and we were the only women in line at the warehouse will-call window. The guys at Home Depot were interested in our project, too. I wonder if they checked out the YouTube link I suggested?
The FoxCam captures winter hooping action
I came home with four new hoops, 75 feet of tubing and a ratcheting pipe cutter, too. For the record, hoops travel well by air when tied into a bundle and wrapped with bubble wrap.
"Oh, no! I left the travel hoop in the car!" I remembered at O'Hare
Sorry, Tracey. I will be buying you a new travel hoop in the very near future.
While in Ephrata visiting Mom, I got to help dress the set for the musical She Loves Me. I was lucky and got to do all the fun bits - making a dessert cart, dressing a shop window and four shop counters, decorating a Christmas tree. I also did a bit of painting and various dogsbody tasks to help get things done before dress rehearsal.
One of the counter displays in perfect condition.
After rehearsal one of the soaps had toppled and some items were teetering.
The window display with the scenic painters' lettering work.
The whole thing before painting was completed.
The cast and artistic director in rehearsal.
We sat in on dress rehearsal and I have never laughed so hard at a musical. The comedic songs were spot on and the acting was sharp. If you're in the Ephrata area for any of the run (Dec. 11th - 13th at 8pm; Dec. 17th - 19th at 8pm; and Dec. 20th at 2pm & 8pm ) be sure to go see it. Tickets are available online and you can see a snippet of the show and an interview with the directors here: http://www.ephrataplayhouseinthepark.org/
Hoop dancing is all the rage these days, and Jo ordered herself a nice hoop to play with, which we did before hopping in the car to the airport. I wasn't very good at hula hoops when I was a kid and I haven't magically improved with age, but it sure was fun to get out in the yard and try.
For much more impressive and skillful hoop dancing, see these videos:
As Jo & I walked home from dinner at a nice Greek restaurant last night, we saw a golden retriever sniffing along the street at the parking entrance to one of the city court buildings. He was unattended but wearing a collar with a tag. I gave him a pat, then read Toby's phone number off the tag to Jo, who rang the owner.
But as I chatted with the dog and Jo waited for the phone to answer, a loud authoritative voice called out to us. "That dog belongs to the dance studio next door. He's a regular here, it's OK."
I turned to face the speaker, who was a large, black dome mounted on the side of the parking garage. "Oh, OK. We thought he might be lost. Thanks," I called up at the wall and smiled at the unseen watcher behind the security camera.
Although I realise that I pass the watchful eyes of scores of security cameras every day, this is the first time I've ever been addressed by a faceless voice coming from one. (Video doorbells not included. )
Yesterday I spent a few hours in the Yatala Labour Prison. I was volunteering in the canteen with Jo and her boss, Jeff.
I'd never been in a prison before, but it was similar to what I have seen in movies and on TV. We signed in then walked through two controlled doors to reach the visit room where the canteen operates on weekends. After a quick preparation for sales, we heard the doors clunk open and visitors arrived, buying snacks and drinks in a flurry.
Prisoners, dressed in dark green, navy, or pale blue sweatshirts and trousers, sat in chairs marked "P" across low round tables from their visitors. All the furniture was bolted to the floor so nobody could get too cozy. Despite that, there were plenty of kids running about and getting hugs from their fathers, and a few prisoners greeting partners with a kiss or two. I saw a lot of awkward smiles and tense conversations, too. I imagine those 40 minutes are packed with a lot of information to be shared - both good and bad.
In the canteen, we microwaved dozens of pizza slices, sold out the entire inventory of Farmer's Union Iced Coffee, and bagged up many mixed lollies for the kids. I did my best to serve people quickly, but it was challenging since I didn't know all of the products for sale (for example, I know what an ice lolly is, but I didn't know the brand name) and my handling of change is slower than it could be. But I smiled and was friendly and I hope I did a fair job.
(On a similar topic of volunteering while vacationing, I donated blood last week for the first time in more than a decade. I was happy to learn that my iron levels were high!)
Examining wine at Penfolds
I spent two days touring the wine country near Adelaide with Barossa Epicurean Tours. What a great time! It was just me and Tom, my driver and guide, whose knowledge of wine, local history, geology, botany and current events made the trip exceptional.
The first day we spent in the Barossa driving around to cellar doors and trying local produce. At Penfolds I had a tour of the enormous operation (they are owned by Fosters) and then played at blending my own wine. Tasting wine before lunch made me tipsy, so we stopped at a well-known purveyor of dried fruit and nuts, Angas Park, and the Barossa Valley Cheese Company, where I picked up a delicious goat's brie. We had lunch at Kaesler, and did a bit of tasting and shopping at Rockford and the gorgeous cellar door cum gallery, Kabminye. We ended with a coffee and chocolate at Maggie Beer's Farm Shop and then I went to my B&B, the beautiful Marble Lodge in Angaston.
The next morning, Tom toured me through the Clare Valley. At Annie's Lane, I tasted the striking difference between grapes grown in clay and those grown in slate soils. Same grapes, completely different wines. They tasted like like farming and mining. We stopped in at the oldest winery in the area, Sevenhill Cellars, founded by Jesuits in 1851. More cellar door tastings at Pikes Wines and Tim Adams, a superb coffee at Wild Safron in Clare, then a delicious ploughman's platter lunch complete with homemade pickles and chutney at Penna Lane Wines. We ended with a tour of the local landmark mansion, Martindale Hall, before returning to Adelaide.
I am leaving out all of the fascinating history I learned, the stunning views I saw, and tasty wild plants that I experienced because those are things you will have to do for yourself. Get in touch with Tom; he's an excellent tour guide and when he is doing the driving, you can taste to your heart's content without worry of driving off the road.
My hand blocks the sun to reveal the ice halo
As we drove to lunch in Glenelg yesterday, Jo spotted a rare phenomenon - an ice halo around the sun. We had just been talking about them. APOD posted a spectacular photo and good explanation of the phenomenon recently.
I put a digitally enhanced view from another angle up on Flickr.
Last night, Jo asked me "How long will it take you to get ready?" because we were getting up early to go garage sailing with her father. "Seven minutes," I replied and when I got up at 6:30, I timed myself. It was six minutes from eyes opened to clothes on, plus 90 seconds to make the bed. I took a few more minutes to have a coffee for a final touch to waking up.
Ray/Dad pulled up at the corner in his big blue station wagon with Grant in the front seat and Naomi in the back. We piled in and were on our way to the first garage sale, slated to start at 7:30.
Grant is the navigator and mans the well-marked newspaper ads. He and Ray have been going out to garage sales together for a long time, usually without Ray's wife, Naomi. Once Naomi observed the way people were interacting with the two and concluded that everyone thinks they are gay. They are cute together so I can see why people might make assumptions.
The first garage sale was not too far away and we were there before the stated time. So were the usual early morning garage sailors: the Bad Greek, Lego Man, the Dealer. We saw them and some of the other, unnamed regulars off and on throughout the morning.
The house was a beautiful one story brick and stone cottage decorated with iron lace around the wooden roof of the red tiled porch. The doors and windows had green, bronze and red Edwardian patterned stained glass sections. Peeking through the window, I saw fireplaces and high ceilings, though what interested everyone else were old wood furnishings and the few piles of "stuff" laying about.
The owner drove up at 7:25, let himself in while politely but firmly deferring a barrage of "How much do you want for...?" questions. A few minutes later, he opened the door and the crowd, no numbering a dozen or more, barged in, banging the door against something sitting behind it. A free-for-all ensued and I believe the major pieces were sold within 10 minutes.
Most of the other sales we attended were less frantic, but there was always a sense of urgency to get there quickly and avoid missing anything exceptional. There really wasn't much great today, apparently, though we all walked away with something. Dad & Naomi picked up an old cell phone and a keyboard for their foster child to play with. Grant, who is a painter, bought a few frames and a black Bakelite elephant pen holder that I wish I had seen first. Jo got some videos and a rattan corner stand for her apartment. I bought a paperback history of the Australian kitchen.
When we'd exhausted the list of interesting sales, we stopped for morning tea at Pat-a-Cake in Malvern. I had a slice of Apricot Jubilee, a homemade white cake with dried apricots and coconut frosting. We had a long talk about cakes and Grant suggested I try Australian classics Hummingbird (pineapple, banana, and coconut( and Lumberjack (apples and dates). Sounds like a terrible assignment, but I will choke them down before next Saturday when we go garage sailing again.
Jo's washing machine is a twin tub. I've seen them before but never used one until now. Jo had to explain how it works, because it is a little more complicated than chucking the clothes in and pressing Start.
First you fill the left side with water and soap. This wash water can be used multiple times until it is too dirty to wash with again, as shown in the photo. In a drought-stricken country, that is a big savings in water. Dials and buttons allow you to choose agitation strength and duration so away you go, washing.
The right side is the spinner basket. After the wash cycle, you take the clothes from the water (they are thoroughly twisted and tangled together), balance them in the basket, close the lids and spin them out for a minute or so.
Then they go into some clear rinse water you have arranged in the laundry sink off to the side and you let them rinse a bit, agitating with your hands or the laundry stick to loosen the tangles, and then you return them to the spin basket for a longer go before putting them into the dryer.
Each load of laundry requires your attention and some focus as the phases end, but it is not difficult and takes less time than the fancy electronic washer/dryer I have in Tokyo. I really like the twin tub.
James and Jo
Last night, Jo & I paid a visit to her brother, James, on his jobsite. He is installing glass panelled railings at an upscale Rundle Mall property and told us we could drop by. So after dinner, we took a walk up through town and did just that.
When we got to the place, we peeked in and saw two blokes working, but they weren't James. He was hidden high up on some scaffolding, but his mates waved at us rather cheekily and the guard opened up the gate and let us in with a wink (also cheekily, goodness knows what he thought we were up to).
So now I have met James and he is no longer elusive. In fact, we all had lunch together today and did a bit of post-lunch shopping, made tentative plans for a TV night to introduce me to all the Australian shows I ought to know, and we have firm plans for a family party on Sunday. I like knowing my friends' siblings and am glad to have James counted among the ones I know.
Rainbow after a storm
Jo arranged a trip to Kangaroo Island, just off the South Australia coast, a two hour drive and 45 minute ferry trip from Adelaide. For Jo, it was a chance to do a lot of longer distance driving, and her first ever trip as The Driver. There was lots of driving every day because Kangaroo Island is quite large. It took us two hours to get from one end to the other on the sealed roads. We hoped to avoid the dirt roads in the Blitz Buggy, a 25 year old Colt, and selected our inland explorations carefully.
Kangaroo Island was the first white-settled part of South Australia with a ship landing in July 1837. The ruins of the first settlement are now a park at Kingscote. We wandered through the cemetery and Jo picked out the names that are still common locally.
There are numerous nature reserves and natural parks. We visited a rock formation that is similar in geology to Uluru, but fractured and weathered from sitting on the edge of a seaside cliff. It is called Remarkable Rocks and they are.
KI is good farming land and there is a sheep dairy called Island Pure that makes delicious sheep milk cheeses. We also dug into the island's fresh water crayfish called marron, the local Ligurian honey, and free range eggs. And we enjoyed the local wines, which I tasted and selected at the cellar doors, as Jo is allowed zero blood alcohol in her first two years of driving.
The weather was surprisingly clear and beautiful, though chilly. Three of four nights we stargazed - the lights of Adelaide were a dim orange glow in the distance that couldn't match the bright white glow of the Milky Way. The southern hemisphere Milky Way is fractured and branching and so very full of stars. I was happy.
On the last day, it rained like mad off and on through the whole day but every time we got out of the car to look at the sights, the sky cleared for a little while. We even had a hailstorm but we were sheltered at eating lunch at Kingscote when it happened.
And after each rain, the rainbows came. I saw four yesterday and one the day before. Almost like Ireland.
We saw a lot of what the island had to offer, but there were still places that we missed this time and I am looking forward to returning to see them someday. There are some photos up on Flickr if you'd like to see the highlights.
The apartment block where Jo lives
I am in awe of Jo's neighborhood. She lives in the central business district of Adelaide, within walking distance of everything interesting. 15 minutes gets you to the Central Market, where I will be spending too much time and money in the next few weeks. 15 in a different direction takes you to Rundle Mall, a street turned into a shopping and dining arcade. This neighborhood is the ideal location for a walker like me.
I am specifically in love with her block of apartments. They are two facing rows of two story buildings with a swath of lawn and trees between them and walkways leading from one end to the other. It is low and comfortable with lots of green. Truly charming.
At the fence
Jo's apartment is on the first floor, so she has a garden and small courtyard. It is winter now, so the plants aren't as lush as they would be in summer, but it is still green and pretty. Sunlight filters into the house through the garden and it is very appealing.
Although her apartment is not large, the courtyard & garden offer an additional room about equal in size to her living area - maybe 4 x 4 meters. It is partially covered, protected with walls on two sides, and furnished with a table and benches. It feels simultaneously cosy and spacious and seems to be an ideal mix of private and public space, as you can sit at the table and watch people passing by, but be shielded from them at bit by the garden.
I think I will put that to the test and take a cup of tea outside and read until it is time to make lunch.
Argh. It was only a few days into our three-week trip when our server crashed. So no blogging from the road and no e-mail either. I know you missed me.
Our trip was great. I'll backfill a few entries with things I want to remember (and to share, but 'remember' is the more important aspect these days), but to tide you over while I get caught up, here are some highlights:
A November week on a North Carolina beach wasn't nearly as cold as I thought it would be. Most mornings, I dashed outside to the beach in my pajamas. While I was inside, I cooked a lot and I knit a hat and scarf in anticipation of the winter weather in NYC. Among all the McQuillin family, we filled up a whole customer appreciation card (in 24 hours) at the local shoe place and got a free pair of shoes. Seven of those pairs returned to Tokyo with me & Tod.
Home for Thanksgiving was a once in a decade event. It was fun, even if we did have to cook two of almost everything - a vegan version for us and a regular version for everyone else. Jenn made an amazing raw foods cherry cobbler for our dessert. We helped Mom design and build hats for a 12 Days of Christmas program at the theatre. While I was in Ephrata, I bought a gown for the Australia Day Gala Ball; it's gorgeous and I can hardly wait to wear it. None of my new shoes go with it, though.
Who could say anything bad about a week in NYC? Christmas in New York is a good time to visit; so many bright lights and pretty decorations. We went to the Radio City Christmas show, the Botanical Garden Train Show, shopped (briefly) at Macy's, sent gifts from Santa to some kids in Washington Heights and I am completely full up with holiday cheer now. We walked the city as much as we could which counterbalanced doing eating as much as we could. I managed to return home weighing the same as when I left, despite some stunningly large and delicious meals. I even ate cheese - no way was I going to pass up NY pizza.
Thanks to the City Walks: New York cards that Jeremy gave me a while ago, Tod & I had some excellent and interesting strolls around the city. We walked a lot to work off all the food we had enjoyed. I'm not sure about the scale of this map, exactly, but we spent many hours each day on foot, exploring. Felt like we were going miles and miles.
We travelled longer distances by subway, taking the 6 line all the way up to the Bronx for pizza, the Q line to Brooklyn for pizza, and the B one day when we wanted falafel in another part of town. I was surprised at how unscary the subway was - it has a bad reputation, but it was fine.
The day we went to the Bronx, there was an "incident investigation" going on at 77th and Lexington and the 6 was shut down from 42nd to 125th, so we quickly sussed an alternate route involving a walk through Central Park (where we saw Lucy Liu taping for "Cashmere Mafia"), an express 5 to 125th and then the 6 from there. It took a lot longer than we planned and we were hungry by the time we arrived at the pizza place.
O the culinary delights of a huge city where everyone eats out (a bit like Tokyo, actually). We ate well and I took notes. Here are the standout places that are not to be missed.
Catch de Fish
3rd Ave @ 15th
This was so good, we ate here twice. Thai fusion with an emphasis on seafood. Choose your fish or seafood from a list and then pick a sauce or salad to go with it. The green curry sauce and the grilled eggplant salad were superb, and the ginger sauce excellent. Don't pass up the Avocado and Mandarin Orange Salad; it's complex and delightful. The soups were great , the appetisers appetising and everything was ideal. I wish they had a branch in Tokyo.
30th between 5th Ave & Broadway
Indian vegetarian prix fixe dinner. $25 gets you over 20 dishes (two thalis' worth), including some stunningly hot appetisers, a range of sinfully good curries, fabulous rices and breads plus dessert and chai. If you like something, you can ask for more. There is no way to walk away hungry and I dare anyone to notice that there is not meat on the menu.
Di Fara Pizza
1424 Avenue J, Brooklyn
Mr. DeMarco makes classic, authentic Italian pizza by hand. He doesn't skimp, he takes his time, and every pie is a work of art. He's been in business for 40-odd years and plans to hand over the reigns to his kids, but they don't make the pizza - only he does. So get there before he retires! This was some of the best pizza I've ever enjoyed - crispy bottomed, thin crusted, with sauce that supported the flavors of the three Italian cheeses and fresh basil. Honestly, you must try it. Take the Q line to the Avenue J stop in Brooklyn.
222 Waverly Place
Taim serves falafel that doesn't sit like a rock in your stomach - the kind we can't get in Tokyo. We read about it in the New Yorker and made a beeline to the West Village to try it. It's a tiny take away place, virtually no seating but a half dozen stools in great demand, but that makes no matter. Go here, and order the falafel (green, red or harissa). Enjoy the subtle flavor of zarat, an ancient Israeli seasoning complementing the lemon in the salad that comes on the sandwich. Lick the hummus from your fingers as it escapes the pita. Be happy.
Louie and Ernie's
1300 Crosby Ave, Bronx
This was the quintessence of the NY pizza I grew up with. It has a thin, chewy (but not soggy) crust with a layer of cheese that equaled the depth of the crust. The sauce is tangy and the pizza drips orange grease down your arm if you tilt it the wrong way. It's nothing like the Di Farra pizza, but they are equally wonderful. I grinned like a little kid and wolfed down two slices - one plain, one with mushrooms. There's probably equally good NY-style pizza in Manhattan, but the adventure of getting to the middle of the Bronx was an interesting one.
Mom asked me to share some well-seasoned vegetarian recipes with her. She doesn't eat a lot of meat and wanted to learn a bit more about the tasty stuff I'm always going on about. So I made her a little cookbook. I called it "Almost Vegan" because although the emphasis is on vegan things, there are a couple of recipes with optional shrimp and one with non-optional eggs.
We cooked quite a few of these together, and I think she liked them. I used the recipes while we were in North Carolina, too, and the dishes were well-received. Everyone at the NC beach house claimed they don't have time to cook. I think maybe they just don't enjoy it enough to make time for it. I love to cook and it takes up too much of my time, sometimes.
Anyway, I wanted to share the little cookbook with you, in case you're looking for some nicely spiced, healthy, vegetable rich homemade foods. It's divided into sections based on region - Middle East, India, South Asia, and Europe - with a few recipes in each section. You might recognise a few from past Recipe Thursdays. Hope you enjoy it!
Almost Vegan 132KB PDF
I'm pretty sure we could have driven faster, at least from DC to PA.
Stormy Day Walnut Cookies
serves the McQuillin clan
1 cup margarine
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups walnuts, finely chopped
Cream the butter and sugar. Add the flour, salt and cinnamon. Stir in walnuts. Use your hands to work the mixture into a dough the consistence of clay. Depending on the flour and the humidity of the day, you may need a drop or two of water. Form the dough into walnut-sized balls. Bake at 190/375 for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden.
Cookies may be rolled in powdered sugar while still warm, but they are delicious enough naked.
We're back from India. What a great trip. We visited cities, villages and towns. We took trains, cars, jeeps, buses, cycle- and auto-rickshaws and planes. We ate at street stalls, roadside rest stops, superior restaurants. My senses were overloaded with gorgeous colors and noxious smells, often at the same time. Some of my favorite aspects of India:
- It seems that everything in India is made by hand. Workers mix cement one bowl at a time to create a sidewalk or a high-rise. Shops sport painted advertisements of their goods on the walls. Signs on trucks and buses are hand lettered and frequently misspelled. Cooks start dinner from scratch with produce purchased at farmers' markets. India defines DIY.
- Everywhere you turn your gaze, you'll find a decorative frill. In Rajasthan, trucks are hand painted with bright designs and depictions of gods and landscapes. In Delhi, Diwali lamps are still flying above the streets. Women all over the country wear colorful saris, gold ornaments, and jeweled sandals. Every surface seems to have a scroll, a flower, or a pattern painted on it or carved into it. All of this decoration is handmade by artisans, craftsmen and regular folk.
- Cows really do roam the streets freely, crossing highways at rush hour, nibbling litter at the roadsides. Some are cared for by the neighbors and decorated with paint and flower necklaces. Some are apparently owned by "rogue dairies" who let them wander at will. There are also elephants that walk the streets attended but approachable. We had a good time interacting with them and their mahouts in several cities. Camels, goats, dogs, buffaloes - India's got lots of fauna.
- I have a much better idea of what truly good Indian food is and I'm excited to share it with you, so expect Indian recipes in upcoming Recipe Thursdays. I got hooked on the sweet milky masala chai and learned two ways to make it. We devoured endless curries, street foods, and sweets. There's so much to say about food that I'll save it for another post or two.
If you're interested in following our footsteps, we did Intrepid Travels' India Gourmet Tour. I'll get our photos edited and online soon.
Tod's fever broke overnight but now I'm sick with digestive issues. Par for the course, but rather annoying.
Hall of Winds, Jaipur
This morning we walked around the "pink city" of Jaipur with our group, ending up at the Hall of Winds, a five story facade of screened windows that the ladies of the court used to view the city since they were not allowed out in public. They peeked out the windows onto parades and markets without being seen. After our walk, we just couldn't face the aggressive touts, so we caught an auto back to the hotel and rested during our free time.
It didn't help me much. As we waited for the car to come around for our visit to Ladli, I nearly fainted. Then in the car, I suddenly felt hand-over-the-mouth, wild-eyed sick. Our travel companions screamed "Stop the car!" just in time for me to vomit out the window into traffic. Then I escaped out the other side of the van and disgorged my recently sipped orange juice all over the curb. No idea what caused it, but that's India for you.
Our destination, Ladli is part of the i-India NGO project. Ladli gives free vocational training to young girls from the slums and streets. They make lovely beaded jewelry and sell it to visitors like me. The founders of i-India are an Indian couple with backgrounds in sociology and journalism. They began their good works by going out and teaching kids on the streets. Their projects have grown into mobile school vans, healthcare and sanitation, shelters and vocational training for hundreds of street children every day.
In the evening, we had drinks at Tiger Fort with a view out over the city. The twinkling lights were beautiful, but the sounds carried up from below were better. We could hear not only a background rumble of city life, but people laughing and singing far below us. Such cool acoustics that I regretted not having my recording gear with me. You'll have to go yourself and have a listen.
Then we went to the Raj Mandir cinema to take in the 9:30 showing of a new Bollywood movie, Don. The theater is decorated in over-the-top pink art deco, like a fancy frosted cake. We had seats in the Diamond section (90 rupees) that had us sitting in a luxurious upper balcony. We had a great view of the audience below us, who hollered and cheered throughout the movie. We were worn out, though, and left the three hour film just before intermission, so we missed out on the snacks and chai that I saw being prepared in the Diamond lobby.
Poor Tod. He was up and down all night burning with fever. He missed out on all of today's activities.
While the rest of us wandered through Peharsar village in the morning, Tod slept. We drove to Jaipur and he crashed out on my lap in the back of the car. He went straight to the hotel in Jaipur while we toured the Amber Fort. When I reached the hotel, he was still burning with fever and feeling terrible.
I called in a GP to have a look at him. Dr. Arora arrived 15 minutes later, dressed in a blue shirt and brown slacks, carrying a briefcase with a stethoscope, blood pressure cuff and notepad. He talked to Tod for about 45 minutes, testing the vitals, asking questions about his symptoms and exhibiting a pleasant, fatherly bedside manner. Then he scribbled a prescription for antibiotics and various other medicines on his tablet. His charge for a house call was 400 rupees, or about 1000 yen.
I ran across the street (literally ran, dodging traffic as you do in India) to the chemist. I handed a young man the doctors orders and he moved through his tiny shop, opening glass-fronted cabinets and pulling out boxes from the ones stacked there. He took the boxes back to the counter, pulled out a pair of scissors and checking the script again, proceeded to cut off the right number of pills from each blister pack. The medicine totaled 170 rupees.
Here's some of what Tod missed:
Peharsar woman forms fuel from cow dung
Garden in the Amber Fort, Jaipur. "Winter, summer, monsoon palace; army barracks. Come. Look," said our guide over and over...
Maybe it wasn't just the hot day yesterday that had me resting on the marble floor of the Taj. By the late afternoon I had a fever and felt so blah that I skipped dinner and went straight to bed. This morning I'm run-down, but the fever's gone.
One of the courtyards at Fatehpur Sikri
Visiting Fatehpur Sikri cheered me up. The Emperor Akbar built this city. It took twelve years and was to be the center of his new religion. He had three wives - one Hindu, one Muslim and one Christian - and all three are commemorated in the architectural details, including some remarkable botanical carvings. Unfortunately, due to politics and drought, the city was abandoned after only four years. But I peopled it with my imagination. It was spectacular.
Sam likes the carvings, too.
After our visit we had lunch at Hotel Ajay Palace (everything is a palace here, even the most modest of hotels). It was quite a simple place, and like everywhere in India not 100% spic and span. Ajay's elderly father, JP, presided over the dark black lemon pickles, which he makes himself. Lunch was delicious. Homemade curd, a thali full of wonderful curries with condiments of super-spicy green chilis and a chili tomato sauce. I loved Ajay's cooking and hope to return someday for another lunch.
Too soon we were back in the car heading towards a tiny village called Peharsar and the Chandra Mahal Haveli, a charming old merchant's house renovated into a hotel. It has courtyards, gardens, thick walls with niches carved into them and bright stained glass in the windows. By the time we arrived, though, Tod was feverish so I put him to bed while the rest of us enjoyed a cooking demo and snack. Sam took notes and I paid close attention, so I should be able to reproduce the dry potato curry they made for us.
The Indian spice box
Tod rallied enough before dinner to come sit with us in the garden. We had fried spinach leaves, chicken kofta, dry cooked eggplant with a sweet seasoning and a different potato curry. Shortly after dinner, we made it an early night and went off to bed in our purple painted room.
I think it's required by law that visitors to India see the Taj Mahal. With that necessity in mind, I was not really looking forward to today's trip to Agra.
We caught a 6:15 train from Delhi. As we were served tea and breakfast with newspapers, scenery of ramshackle huts sped past us. I'd been warned that the poverty in India is terrible and would bother me. But it doesn't. Our world economy is not fair but we all share the same human emotions. Money doesn't change joy and sorrow. The people outside my window have happy and sad moments and so do I.
We arrived in Agra and started our touring at the Red Fort. Made of local sandstone, it really is red. The emperor who built the Taj Mahal lived here with his 3 wives and hundreds of concubines and you can tell it was a complex society by the way the courtyards and rooms are connected (or not). After Shah Jahn built the Taj Mahal, though, his son overthrew him for wasting public funds on the frivolous Taj and his red fort became a jail. Pretty nice jail, though.
The icon of India turned out not to be such a waste of public funds after all.
Then we were off to the Taj itself. I was expecting to be bored and unimpressed. I mean, who hasn't seen a dozen photos of the building? It's a big white domed edifice. Whoopee. I figured Zoupi might enjoy it a little bit, but he wasn't allowed in. He had to go to "elephant and cell phone jail" while we visited. His jail was not as nice as Emperor Shah Jahn's.
I was wrong about the Taj. It is breathtaking. Inside the vaulted room where the mausoleums are, the tap of footsteps, the babble of talk, eand ven the visitors breathing all combine into the most chilling and enveloping sound that echos through the space. I got up close to the rail, closed my eyes and listened. Shivers ran down my spine...
Here are some un-touristy photos of the Taj and our visit there.
Waiting for the shoe wallah to take my sneakers.
It was so hot that we laid down on the cool marble floor in one of the porticoes.
We spent half an hour staring up at this domed ceiling.
We weren't alone in enjoying the a rest in the shade
Today we tried our first street food - from a vendor in Old Delhi that won a Times of India "Good Food Award"! Well deserved, too. Those were some tasty samosa, aloo tikka, and crispy pea-filled breads. Sarah, the ultra-cautious member of our group refused to try anything; she's fearful of falling ill. The rest of us dug in and enjoyed.
Onlookers cheer the parade from the balcony of the gudawara
Old Delhi was a madhouse today due to Guru Nanak's birthday. The main street was closed off for a parade of school children, flower-bedecked buses and men sword fighting. We skirted around them to the Jamma Mosjid, Jain Bird Sanctuary and then headed into the fray at the gudawara where all the action was centered.
Grilling chapati in quantity
We slipped into the gudawara's kitchen to watch the volunteers making chapati for anyone who wanted to eat. While Tod snapped photos, I was handed a long narrow spatula and nodded towards the grill. Everyone else was deftly flipping chapatis from one end of the griddle to the other. Mine all folded in the middle. It was a lot harder than they made it look.
Choosing nuts in the spice market
By the time we made it to the spice market (after another stop for glorious parantha from a 5th generation back alley dive), I was too tired to enjoy it much. But the colors and scents were sublime and almost reviving.
In the evening, we drove out to suburban Delhi to have dinner and a home visit. While her husband showed us their apartment and it's brightly painted blue and violet rooms, Alu made a feast for us with channa curry, spicy okra, potatoes with fenugreek, several homemade sauces and pickles and, of course, chapati. She gave us a try at forming and rolling chapati. Hers were so nice and round. Mine was rather heart-shaped. I think today was not my day for any aspect of chapati making.
This morning, we walked from Ram Nagar through Connaught Place down to Bengali Market for breakfast. Crab had suggested channa bathura at Bengali Sweet Shop and he was right on the mark. Heavenly fried bread with chick pea curry may not be to everyone's taste for breakfast, but we were hungry and it was delicious.
Before too many "five minutes look" moments
At 11, Didar was ready for us with the auto-rickshaw. We decided on a program of mainly religious places and took in a Buddhist temple, a Hindu temple made of striking red, white and yellow stone, and our driver's own Sikh gudawara.
The gudawara was very cool. Though they seem fierce with their religious accouterments of daggers, bracelets and combs, Sikhs sing their holy book and give free food to anyone who turns up at lunchtime and dinner. Their blessing is a sweet paste of ghee and flour that is sticky and delicious. There is a big Sikh holiday tomorrow - Guru Nanak's birthday, and volunteers were stringing lights and decorating. We walked around the enclosed reflecting pool, strolled through a book fair and bought a book.
The reflecting/bathing pool and book fair
Auto drivers are notorious for taking tourists to places where they will get commissions or freebies, and Didar was no exception. By the end of the day we had been inveigled to "five minutes just look, no buy OK" at several shops. And we did "look no buy" at most of them. But I succumbed to an overpriced Aruvedic treatment for a blossoming headache and bought a really lovely silk scarf at just under Tokyo prices, I imagine, but it's beautiful and I need a head covering for visiting mosques and such.
Battling traffic at rush hour was quite an experience. I should have been afraid of the buses and trucks barreling alongside us and the other autos and cars performing a ballet of passing and crowding into roads without lane markers, but somehow I wasn't at all perturbed and enjoyed it immensely.
In the evening we started our Intrepid tour and met the group for a meeting. Expecting a party of twelve, we were surprised and pleased to find only five people on the tour, plus our tour leader, Paula. After the usual self-introductions, we talked over our itinerary, responsible travel, and Intrepid's projects. Then we went to dinner.
Dinner was fun and we talked a lot about food and ingredients. It seems that Tod and I are pretty knowledgeable even though I don't feel all that skilled in Indian cuisine. I smiled when the band struck up Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas, a classic Bollywood love song by Kishore Kumar that I've heard Jim sing to Yuka.
We will sleep well tonight and without the blare of morning call to prayers, I hope.
This is going to be an interesting trip. At first glance, Delhi reminds me much of Beijing - the chaotic traffic hurrying along on filthy streets past fenced off enclaves.
5:15 this morning at Hotel Ajanta in the Ram Nagar district, I heard a clang. A dropped pipe? A bell? It was the start of the dawn call to prayer - a very loud and melodic call for 30 minutes, followed by somewhat muffled prayers and chanting from the mosque next door. This, along with an extraordinarily inedible breakfast and a rip-off change of rooms when we were too tired to complain about it last night is the reason I will not stay at Hotel Ajanta again or recommend it to anyone.
Me & Crab inside the uncompleted minar
The day got a lot better when we met our friend, Crab, at Qutab Minar. Crab, who is really named Abhijit, is an enthusiast of India's historical ruins and mausoleums and he showed us some fascinating details in the complex, including the first true arch ever built in India (along with some of the few precursors which didn't fall apart). We had a late lunch at one of his favorite South Indian restaurants, then he dropped us off at Hamayun's Tomb and went into work.
As we left the tomb later on, we negotiated a ride back to the hotel by an auto-rickshaw driven by a Sikh fellow named Didar. He persuaded us to use his service tomorrow for a ride around town to various places. I didn't want to, but recalled one of the bits of advice in Shantaram: surrender. So I gave in and arranged to have Didar pick us up at 11 am at our hotel.
Still full from lunch and exhausted from the busy day, we skipped dinner but walked through the Main Bazaar near the New Delhi train station. I was offered hashish three times but only bought some sandalwood soap.
We're off to enjoy Indian food and culture. Mediatinker won't be updated until I return round and happy like Ganesha.
One of the sort of funny things about living in Japan and traveling overseas is that when you want a phrasebook to carry with yo, you either have to plan ahead and order online or buy a Japanese one.
I never remember to order one in advance, but fortunately, we've found a clever series called "Point and Speak" that has lots of pictures labeled in Japanese and the other language. We bought one for India (Hindi) because I'd like to be able to speak a little bit.
So I'll sound out a few words as noted in the book. I wonder if anyone will think it strange that I speak Hindi with a Japanese accent?
Having recently spent a total of 8 hours over thrree days at the Detroit airport, I'm pleased to bring you this list of things to do during your next transit on Northwest Airlines.
- Watch the acrobatic fountain in the center of concourse A (McNamara Terminal).
- Watch the indoor shuttle train run the length of concourse A.
- Walk a full circuit of concourse A .
- Enjoy the son et lumiere in the tunnel between concourse A and the B/C gates.
- Eat a chili dog or any of the all-American foods on offer.
- Stare at the really hugely fat people eating ice cream and extra large portions of fried food.
- Tap into a power outlet on the support columns and charge your laptop.
- Get frustrated by the spotty Wifi access you just paid for.
- Browse the magazines and books.
- Buy a snacksfor the plane, since NWA doesn't supply them for free on short flights.
I'm in the States this weekend and will return to Tokyo on Tuesday. I don't expect to have time to write anything here, so I'll see you on Tuesday with a list of ten interesting things to do in the Detroit airport.
Home is where you hang your jacket?
We're back in Tokyo this evening after our week in London. As much as I love to travel, I enjoy coming home more.
"Raw meat," the waiter succinctly announced when he brought us our plate of kibbeh at Maroush on Edgeware Road. None of the other dishes were named or described as they came to table, so I wonder if it was a final warning to the perhaps unsuspecting diner about the nature of kibbeh.
No worries, we knew what to expect and it was gooooood. And the spicy hummus was the best I've ever eaten - silky smooth with just the right balance of lemon and garlic, a peppery kick, and a generous amount of fresh flat-leaf parsley mixed into it. We devoured an entire bowl and could have eaten more, except that the next dish arrived to distract us - lamb-stuffed vine leaves and aubergine cooked in a spiced tomato sauce. Manna in a ramekin.
On previous visits to London, I've given the Victoria and Albert museum a pass. I always like to leave a city with at least one good reason to return and the V&A was my sacrifice. But not this time.
It has an abundance of interesting decorative and practical arts. More than enough to spend a full day enjoying. It's big and confusing and under construction, but if you don't mind being lost on the third floor desperate to reach the garden cafe on the ground floor but unable to find a stairwell not blocked off for maintenance, then the V&A is a great place. On the other hand, if you really want to get to the garden cafe from the 3rd floor, you're going to hate it.
I sauntered through the first floor fashion collection to start, admiring and examining garments dating from the 1600s to last year. There are some stunning pieces. A floor length white velvet and fur evening coat-dress from the 1980s took my breath away, as did the bold jungle-floral pantsuit from the 1970s - but not in the same way. I laughed when I encountered the "novelty bustle pad" from 1837 that played God Save The Queen every time the wearer sat down.
Upstairs, I found the textile galleries. I spent most of my time there pulling random "frames" from their cases. The frames are a catalog of textile samples - laces, embroidery, weaving, prints - from medieval to 19th century. The cloth fragments are mounted in very large glass-fronted picture frames and stored vertically, like books on a shelf. You slide them out to look at them. There are hundreds of them. I looked at perhaps 40 before I got too hungry to think
And that's when I got lost. It took way too long to find stairs heading where I wanted to go and I got frustrated. But that's not going to permanently taint my judgement of the V&A. Next time I'll eat lunch before I go...
The Tower of London isn't a tower. It's a complex of twenty towers built in different centuries, rebuilt in various ways and used for fine and nefarious purposes over its 900 year existence.
It reminded me just a little bit of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Not because they look much alike (though they both consist of great stone and wood buildings) but because they are the same class of place - former palace and prison turned to tourism. And places I've spent time drawing, too. I wonder what other former palaces/prisons exist in the world? Perhaps I should go on a tour and draw them all.
I'm a litle embarrassed to admit that much of my prior knowledge of the Tower came from Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle books, so I spent as much time recalling scenes from the books as I did people-watching. But I wasn't entirely daydreaming. I paid attention, too.
Something I learned today is the historical origin of some familiar nursery rhymes. Mary Tudor, who became Mary 1 of England, was fond of gardening. She spent so much time outdoors that she was nicknamed The Farmer's Wife. She was also a devout Catholic and when she became queen had over 300 Protestant leaders executed. She earned the nickname Bloody Mary for that.
Mistress Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?
With silver bells [mass] and cockle shells [awards for crusades] and pretty maids [nuns] all in a row.
Mary couldn't become Queen until she seized the throne from Lady Jane Grey. Lady Jane's father-in-law was the architect of Jane's near ascent to the throne. When he figured that the army was going to support Mary instead of Jane, he sent three bishops to preach on Jane's behalf. It didn't work and the bishops ran away to beseech Mary for mercy.
Three blind mice, three blind mice [the bishops], see how they run.
They all ran after the famer's wife, who cut off their tails with a carving knife. [they were executed]
The English countryside in springtime is a riot of life. Everything is bright and fresh. Flowers bloom on all the hillsides. Trees leaf out in brilliant green, lambs frollick on hilly pastures, birds sing. The world vibrates with newness.
Lenora, a friend I met in Tokyo who's been transplanted to Harrogate in Yorkshire, extended her hospitality to me and shared her knowledge of local history, flora and fauna as she toured me around her lovely district. We visited Bolton Abbey and enjoyed a long walk along the River Wharfe to see the bluebells in bloom. Along the fringes of forest, they form a dense haze of vivid blue-violet punctuated with white stars of wood anenomes. Now I understand the color inspirations of classic English floral textiles.
Harrogate was formerly a spa town. Victorians travelled north from London on a new train line to take the waters. Today there's only one bath operating and the town is more famous for its civic flower displays, but back in the day, there were grand hotels, an opera house, and the beginnings of several long-standing culinary traditions including toffees (to help remove the sulphur-water taste) and Betty's cafe tearoom.
I spent two days in Yorkshire, but it passed too quickly. Enjoying the scenery of the Dales was a pleasure I hope to have again. I still have the theme song from the BBC's All Creatures Great and Small running in my head.
The City of London is not the London most visitors come to see. It is the center of commerce and banking with stone edifaces, imposing columns, cobbled walks and atriums in abundance.
350,000 people work here, but only 5,000 live here. And they all sleep in on Sundays, so jet-lagged travellers have it all to themselves. Tod & I walked through nearly deserted streets this morning past shuttered shops that won't open until Monday morning. The only people we encountered were those not speaking British English. It was wonderful to be in such a quiet urban space.
And such an old one, too. We saw a sign proclaiming a street protected by the City of London Police under the Metropolitan Streets Act of 1867. Down the street from our hotel, the pub where we dined in last night has been around since the 14th century. The Bank of England on Threadneedle Street has been there since 1734. the Royal Exchange across the street was originally built in 1571, though the current incarnation was erected in 1884 and it became a luxury shopping mall in 2001 - closed on weekends.
Did I mention we're going to London? Well, we are. We did. We're here. The weather is cool and wet. The forecast says more cool and wet. Good thing I packed the raincoat I bought last time I was here.
My dot painting
One of the most wonderful things we did while at Uluru was to take several walks and workshops with Anangu Tours, run by the local aboriginal community. My favorite was the Dot Painting Workshop.
We spent over an hour learning about dot painting: the symbols used in the paintings; the switch from traditional pigments on stone to acrylic on canvas; how the colors are meaningful but differ from painting to painting; and that many of the paintings are maps or textbooks, or just tell stories. Then we got a chance to make our own small paintings. We were encouraged to tell a personal story of our own.
Tod's dot painting
Independently, Tod & I told the exact same story. We had our own ways of telling the tale, but it's the same one, despite how our canvases don't match. Can you tell what it is? I can give you a hint: the C shaped curves indicate people (it's the shape left behind when a person sitting cross-legged in the dirt gets up) and circles symbolise places.
I edited 3 GB of holiday snaps down to a reasonable number. It may still be too many, but we did so many remarkable things. Did I capture the essence and beauty of the places we saw and people we met?
For the first time ever, I came home from travel and saw Tokyo as others claim to see it- ugly, grey and dirty. It took me a day to think this through, but I figured out what happened to change my perspective.
Australia is huge and empty. It has vistas - views to the far horizon. Even the cities all have ocean coastline and those that are inland are surrounded by vast deserts and bush. So after a few weeks in Australia, I looked at things in the macro view. I took it all in from edge to edge. And when vastness was too overwhelming, I focused in on tiny details: a desert flower, a lizard, a stone.
Australia was most interesting and beautiful at macro or micro scale, but not so much in between.
Tokyo has few wide open spaces. The horizon is just across the street. Its details are predominantly man-made and drab colored or dingy from pollution. Beauty here is largely in sounds, smells, motion, and time. I will take a few long walks through the city, stopping to sketch and carefully observe Tokyo's details, to readjust myself to finding the visual beauty here.
We're home now. Here are some travel maps I sketched during our trip.
Mad Rush to Australia. December 16-17
I ran about finishing up the last minute details before we left. We met MJ & Yoshi on the Narita Express. Tracey was almost an hour late to meet us at the airport and she had the tickets, so this was rather stressful. We waited in lines, got through security, caught the shuttle across the terminal, dashed for the plane and as we reached the gate, they announced a delay of about 45 minutes. After the flight took off, everyone slept but me, I think.
Into Elliston. December 17-18
Gettting to a small town in South Australia takes a lot of time and conveyances. Each plane was smaller than the last.
Out of Elliston. December 26
Elliston to Adelaide is a four and a half hour trip by car and plane. We spent the night in Adelaide before moving on to Alice Springs, Uluru and King's Canyon. I didn't draw maps of those coach rides, though.
Sorry to report that this one speaks for itself. You can click on the image to get a larger view and read the legend.
Homeward Bound. January 7
A quick shower and coffee, followed by packing the van and driving to the airport, where we suffered the usual queues and waits. Then a long, dull plane ride, interrupted by food service. Arrival in Tokyo put us in more lines, then onto two trains before dinner and bed.
Tod's dapper sunhat brough him good luck
Today we went to South Stradbroke Island for a picnic and some fishing. JIm ferried us over in his motorboat and I spent the day in the shade hiding from the "Extreme UV" sunlight. Everyone else went fishing.
MJ caught the most fish - we stopped keeping track after 9, but it was somewhere around 16. Every time she caught a fish, someone had to take it off the hook for her. But when we got back to home base, she did help to scale them all before we fried them up for dinner.
Tod caught the biggest fish, a fair sized breem.
Yoshi without a fish
Poor Yoshi lost his fish. He reeled it in and it jumped off the hook before I could get a photo. What a shame, it looked really tasty.
I wasn't idle while I sat in the shade; I sketched the beach in watercolors. I'm still having trouble with waves.
South Stradbroke Island, looking west
Uluru, afternoon. December 28, 2005.
Uluru, sunset. December 29, 2005.
Uluru, sunrise. December 30, 2005.
One of the best things I am doing on this holiday is sketching. Not that the results are spectacular, but I've drawn and painted up a storm and will continue to do so until I run out of paper. It makes me stop and look and really pay attention to what makes the landscape and the details different from home.
Jo cooks while MJ, Tod & Tracey chat with some Ellistonians
Our first-ever Elliston Matsuri was a success. Attended by a double handful of local adults and children, we cooked up a feast of okonomiyaki and yakitori, and had enough superballs to keep the entire town bouncing. It was a fun evening for everyone, I think.
Afterwards we spun out the folks at the pub by turning up in yukata and jimbei for a post-matsuri glass of wine. We met a woman and her well-trained dog, Pluto, a farmer and shearer who's lived in Elliston for more than 30 years and another rather blur gentleman who kindly invited us to come to the pub at 9 am on Christmas day for drinks.
Waterloo Bay from the jetty in Elliston, South Australia.
We're in Australia for a couple of weeks. We will spend Christmas in Elliston, then tour the Red Center and spend the first week of 2006 in Brisbane. So If I post infrequently or don't get the comments moderated right away, it's because I'm having too much fun chasing gallahs and eating meat pies.
I'll bring back stories and photos!
Our new passports arrived today, less than two weeks after we sent in our applications. We are valid to travel through October 2015.
Although ours do not contain RFID chips, there are some differences in the new passports.
- Digital photo: they photo I sent in was scanned. In the process, it lost a lot of its contrast, so I look like a mound of hair over a pair of beady eyes and a smile floating in pinkish space. I have neither eyebrows nor cheeks and my nose is nearly invisible.
- Holograms: the ID page is covered with a number of US-themed holograms that make it very difficult to read the printed information and see the photo. I guess as long as machine can read the codes along the bottom, that's all that matters.
- Font: the computer generated text on the new ID page is in a smaller sans serif font. It's much harder to read the passport number and other data in the condensed numerals they've used.
- New language: the headings in the old passport were in English and French. The new version adds Spanish.
- Important Information: expanded by one page to cover pages 2-7. The revised and reorganised text includes less detail about the topics mentioned, but lots of URLs. This is all printed in purple, instead of the old dark blue.
In two weeks, Tod & I have visited three continents, slept in four time zones, and accrued 21,157 airline miles each. That's enough to fly free to North or South Asia.
But I'm happy to be home for a while now. I'm tired! I'll redeem those miles another time.
Our last morning at the chateau in Bordeaux, I pulled open the tall narrow windows and thrust my head out into the ebony pre-dawn. Just in front of me was Jeremy's curve of stars spinning from Gemini to Orion--my first glimpse of that glorious golden mean since last winter.
At 6:45 when we departed, the full moon illiminated the vineyards, and as we rode an hour to the train station on the first leg of our two-day journey home, I watched the sun brush a faint glow across the eastern sky and the stars fade into a brightening blue.
The narrow streets of St. Emilion
Our last full day we spent in St. Emilion, one of the most lovely villages I've ever visited. The town is built on the site of a limestone cave where Emilion came to hide after becoming too famous in his Robin Hood-esqe adventures elsewhere in France during the 8th century. It didn't work for him, though. People sought him out for cures and miracles and eventually he was canonised.
Today there is a cavernous church carved into the town's steep hill and all the buildings are made from the excavated stone that took two centuries to remove.
The town with grape vines in the foreground.
The area is well known for its wines, which are re-ranked every ten years. This is in contrast to the chateaux of Medoc which received their ranking in 1855 and have never varied. We tasted a few of St. Emilion's wines and bought one to drink at home later.
Tod, Zoupi & I take a break in the country.
After touring the town on foot and enjoying lunch, we went on a bike ride through the vineyards with Raphael, a local tour guide. He took us to
a series of grottoes on a cliffside overlooking the Dordogne before we turned back to town.
It was gorgeous scenery and easy enough terrain. But I still managed to pull a muscle and get a flat tire. I really am cursed regarding bicycles. I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to remember the French word for "flat tire." I knew it once from Milles Bourne.
Monsieur is very serious about his wines
We began the day with a tour of the Chartrons district of Bordeaux city. This is the riverfront where the wine merchants had their warehouses. Back in the days before wine was bottled at the chateaux, the wine merchants did the bottling at their warehouses.
We were taught to taste wine properly--grip the glass by the foot, sniff the still wine, swirl, sniff again and finally roll a small mouthful across the tongue to see which tastebuds respond. It was fun. And who can complain about three or four good gulps of wine before lunch?
After a lunch at a cafe in town, we boarded a bus along with 50 other people and headed out to Medoc to visit some wineries. It was rather boring, to be truthful, though the countryside was pretty and we did learn more about the wine production process. We visited chateaux in two different appleations producing different classes of wine.
The best part of the afternoon was the tasting at Chateau Kiriwan.
Chateau de la Riviere, Fronsac
It was hard to leave Paris behind. We'd had such a wonderful time and it was so beautiful. Could a few days in the countryside be as good? Actually, more than emotionally difficult to depart; the travel agent booked our TGV tickets for the wrong day.
But we sorted that out and soon found ourselves at Chateau de la Riviere, a working winery with a castle built in 1577. Our room was in the Renaissance wing, built in the 19th century by the renowned Gothic Revival architect Viollet-le-Duc. It was a beautiful place to stay.
Melanie tours us through the caves
After settling in, we toured the chateau and its enormous labyrinth of caves. They stretch for more than 8 hectares beneath the vineyards and woods and contain over half a million bottles of wine and aging barrels. We sampled some wines from the chateau and the other family wineries and discovered that we can get at leat one of the vintages in Tokyo.
Drawing vines while the cat plays with invisible foes
For dinner, we walked to the nearest restaurant, Chez Carles, about half an hour away, using Melaine's loaned lamp to pick our way along the dark forest path to the road. In true proof that my French is really horrible, I told the waitress when we arrived, "Nous sommes reservation." We are a reservation. Well, she got the point. Dinner was surprisingly wonderful for a place where we were the only patrons.
As we finished up with coffee and dessert, the waitress, who chattered pleasantly though we simply didn't understand, brought over the phone. The owner of the chateau, M. Gregoire, was calling. It had begun to rain slowly and he insisted on bringing his car down to collect us. How generous and thoughtful.
Staircase in L'Arc de Triumphe
We celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary with another long walk around Paris, culminating in a climb to the top of the Arc de Triumphe.
We followed that with dinner at La Tour d'Argent, opened in 1582 and known to be the restaurant that introduced the fork to Europe, as well as being the vanguard of coffee and chocolate in Paris. We had both to end our meal at a window seat overlooking the Seine, preceded by delicious appetisers, the famous serial numbered duckling, and to my great delight, a flaming peach for dessert.
The number of our duck: 1,035,662
In gentlemanly fashion, Tod had the menu with the prices; I was not allowed to enquire. I peeked at the wine list and saw that our bottle of vintage 1989 Medoc wine was 150 Euros. I am glad I don't know the rest. It was worth it, whatever the price.
Paris is a lovely city. Redesigned in the late 19th century by Hausmann, the old buildings in the central city all have balconies on the 2nd and fifth floors. Most of the buildings abut the street and are six stories tall, so there is a consistency throughout Paris that is quite pleasant.
Yesterday and today, we walked through the central parts of the city extensively, sometimes with a guide from Context: Paris and other times on our own. There is so much to see. So many beautiful details.
I've started a photoset on Flickr with 18 of my favorite photos from the city. Most of them were taken by Tod, but a few are mine, too. I have black and white images on film that need to be developed.
5 kilos for my thighs at the patisserie
And another five kilos at the fromagerie
(photos by Tod; I was too busy drooling)
I have spent the last couple of days looking online for a reasonably priced hotel in Paris. I am coming to the conclusion that it is an impossible task. It's not that there is a lack of hotels but that there are entirely too many.
I'd like to stay in a quiet neighborhood near the center of the city, in a double room at a 2- or 3-star, small hotel for under 175 Euros a night. All the places I was most keen on are booked for the nights we'll be there in October. So now I'm faced with at least two dozen runners-up and a level of flexibility that puts me in the range of hundreds of hotels. It's mind boggling.
So I'm taking recommendations.
Anyone have a favorite Paris hotel? Tell me about it. Why do you like it? Where is it? Does it have a web page I could peek at?
I guess if I wait long enough, I could discover the joys of Paris' parks after dark.
Friday morning I rocked up to the United international check-in counter for my flight back home and while standing in line, took a look at my itinerary.
"I'm schedule to leave the 18th?" A burst of fear gripped me as I scanned the lobby for a calendar. "But today's the 19th, isn't it?"
Sure enough, I'd missed my flight by 24 hours. Crap. I was utterly certain that I was leaving on Friday, not on Thursday. What a screw-up! What to do? My e-ticket was non-refundable, non-transferrable, non-changeable, and non-flexible to the maximum stiffness.
However, the counter agent I talked with, Mr. Julio Mejia, was quite flexible indeed and got me on the Friday flight with no fuss and a minimum of additional outlay. (A one-way ticket to Tokyo purchased on the day would have cost me several thousand dollars, so I appreciated his efforts to save me some money.)
Now here I am, home safe and sound with an bonus day of Chicago holiday well spent with an architectural tour of "Downtown Deco" and a fine dinner in Greektown.
The silent and vast Reading Room on the third floor of the NY Public Library
My seat in the Reading Room, with a volume of the OED
My first visit to the NY Public Library was all I could have hoped for. The Guttenberg Bible was on display along with a brass globe from the 15th century. After carefully examining both, I sat down with a volume of the OED in the odd-numbered book delivery wing of the Reading Room.
I could have stayed all day but we popped into Bryant Park to catch a lunchtime concert by the city opera. Here's a clip from the concert. I'm sure you can identify the music over the traffic noise and general hubub.
Bryant Park, NYC Opera 1'43" MP3 (1.6 MB)
I had no idea I looked like Eleanor Roosevelt.
Jenn looks like a 1960s movie star.
A slideshow with audio captured on a brief visit to the shore of Lake Michigan in Evanston, IL.
Evanston Lakeshore 2.5 MB 24" MP4
Yao woman in her farmyard. Jiang Yong village, Hunan Province
The photos I took with Jim's 1960s Olympus PEN camera look as old or older than the camera itself. I am thrilled with the way a bunch of holiday snapshots transformed into something that looks worthwhile.
Jim developed and scanned the photos for me on Saturday night. Here's a galleryof all the photos I took in Hunan and Guangxi provinces.
Instead of taking the complimentary shuttle bus from our hotel to the airport in Kushiro, we decided to take the steam train for one final adventure in Hokkaido.
The engine pulls into Shibecha station.
Taking the Fuyu no Shitsugen-go (Winter Bog) is a special event. It's a tourist event for train geeks. The train spotter in me was happy to be riding it.
Each car has a "daruma stove" that the conductor kept well stoked with coal.
The cars are decorated with stuffed foxes, deer and owls plus lots of fake branches with polyfil snow draped on them. It's just silly because the real sights were outside: fields full of grazing deer; steam from the engine drifting through the trees; and a fox on the hillside.
Another day, another trip out of Kawayu. We took the train to Abashiri to have a look at the big chunks of ice that float in across the Okhotsk Sea from Russia.
Fields of ice floating on the sea's surface.
The water is so cold, the waves are viscous and slow.
The thinner ice cracks as the ship passes by but quickly refreezes.
Having exhausted the possibilities for local walks and Kawayu entertainments, we signed up to go out for the day with a guide from Doutou Field. We had a day full of adventures with Ando-san, who worked as a policeman in Chiba until the lure of fishing brought him to eastern Hokkaido.
First we went snowshoeing.
Ando-san, knowing that we were foriegners and likely to be big people, brought his largest size snowshoes. He and Tod talked a lot as we went along. I just walked and watched.
Our destination was Ponponyama, another mountain heated by volcanic forces.
There are crickets hiding under the warm wet leaves here, though we didn't find any. We did see lots of animal tracks on the way in, heard a woodpecker or two, and stumbled across a dead deer.
My best memory of Ponponyama is the colors. The mosses and clay are wonderful red, grey and green colors. The colors of frozen blood and deer fur against the snow were truly lovely. Next website redesign scheme might be "dead deer."
These swans are keeping warm in the sand.
After shedding our snowshoes and warming up with some coffee, we went birdwatching. Along the lake's edge there are places where the water runs warm and birds like to gather. This is Sunayu and it's famous for keeping the swans warm in the winter.
Japanese cranes are huge birds--two meter wingspans.
Tanchou are truly impressive birds--they are very loud and like to flap around at one another. They were thought to be extinct but about 100 years ago someone found a few and started feeding them. Now there are more than 600 at this site. There were nearly as many avid photographers there as birds. You can see them live on the Wild Bird Society Japan webcam.
We made ice cream by filling a fishing float full of salted snow, then tying it to the back of a snowmobile
The most exciting part of the day was making ice cream. Not because of the treat, but because of the snowmobiling. Or rather, the snow mobile accident. Ando-san has a course laid out in front of his house. After Tod went around once without incident, I hopped on the back and rode with him. But on our trip around, he failed to negotiate a curve and we tipped off into the hip-deep snow, landing under the snowmobile. Ando-san brought us a shovel and we dug out the beast while he chuckled and shook the ice cream ball.
I think I got a touch of frostbite from that adventure; my feet got all wet and my ankles look like they are sunburned. The bath felt extra hot that night.
We decided to shake off our sleepy Saturday with a short hike to Iouzan, a mountain a few kilometers from Kawayu.
Yellow sulphur deposits around a vent.
Sulphur hot springs are beneficial for rheumatism, skin disorders and myriad other minor complaints. The source of the sulphur is, of course, the volcanic mountains in the area. Iouzan has several active blow holes that jet hot steam into the air. Kawayu smells like rotten eggs.
Colorful tourists lining up for a commemorative photo.
There's not a lot to do in Kawayu once you've had enough of bathing. Iouzan is a big tourist attraction.
Thanks to a good deal at lastminute.co.jp, we just had a five day holiday in eastern Hokkaido. I didn't post while we were travelling, so these next few entries are backfilled.
After staying up all night to work on a video project for a client with a very tight deadline, I met Tod at Haneda at 6:45 am. There was virtually no hassle getting our tickets; we weren't even asked for ID after we flashed the reciept of our payment. Boarding passes were handed over without question. In fact, for the entire rest of the trip we were never asked to identify ourselves. Maybe that we were the only foreign guests at the hotel--or even in the town--had something to do with it.
The stream that runs through Kawayu is hot.
We arrived at Hotel Kitafukuro (North Owl) in Kawayu mid-morning, settled in, then ventured out for a walk at lunchtime. There was snow everywhere! The hotel staff said there wasn't too much snow this year, but there was stilll more than a meter blanketing the town. It was so bright and shiny that my eyes hurt for hours.
This handsome stranger is warming his feet in an outdoor foot bath.
The town park is full of deer.
Most of the afternoon was devoted to napping--Tod had stayed up all night, too--then a relaxing soak in sulphur baths that tarnished our silver rings and even our gold ones. We topped off the day with a delicious dinner and a long, log-like sleep.
Roo Roo and me. Elliston, South Australia
This kangaroo doe lives on the edge of Elliston. She was bottle-fed by a family who found her after her mother was shot. 18 months old, she spends most of her time in the bush, but comes home for a snack of milk and popcorn every day.
Ah, blessed terra firma, we're back! Australia did not want MJ to leave; it took three days of travel to get home. It was a minor trial of changed plans, delayed flights, and missed connections.
We hopped across the country: Port Lincoln to Adelaide to Sydney to Cairns to Tokyo. We tallied how far we've travelled this past week. Including car travel, we went just about 19,000 kilometers. That's 11,800 miles.
And at the end of our journey, all of our friends were waiting for MJ. Flowers, condolences, food, wine, lots of hugging packed into my living room. Thanks to everyone who came, waited so long for us to arrive, and offered MJ their support.
MJ & I are holed up at the Adelaide Hyatt on North Terrace, whiling away the day between flights by luxuriating in hot baths, fluffy white robes, room service and a good long swim. (Sorry for next month's credit card bill, darling Tod.)
For those keeping track, we'll be back in Tokyo on Friday morning at 6 am. I'm anxious to get back, as is MJ. We miss you all.
MJ & I pelted down Glenelg beach into the surf until we were knee deep in ocean water, clothes wet, giggling. Sharks be damned.
The funeral is on Monday morning; we'll drive to Mum's beach house in Elleston to scatter her ashes on Tuesday. Things are as good as you could expect. I'm glad I'm here.
We're off today on one of my "I have got to get out of the city" trips. The urge comes infrequently, but it's very strong. I need to see something new, smell some fresh air, and sleep in an unfamiliar bed.
After a quick check of Shinkansen timetables and weather reports, I realise that the entire country is due for rain tomorrow with the exception of Yamanashi-ken which expects only clouds. But the mountains and lakes of Yamanashi-ken do not appeal, so I think we'll brave the bad weather elsewhere.
Our umbrellas will go north to Sendai and tomorrow I will photograph what we do--get wet, visit museums, ride the train home--to celebrate Leap Day.
Considering the upwardly spiraling precautions and paranoia concerning travel to the US, I think that other nations could turn this into an advantage for themselves. Think of the fun ad campaigns:
Freedom Flies In France
Come to Australia; we were criminals once, too.
Viva Mexico!!! Cheap overnight travel by truck!!! No delays!!!
Travel Canada, so close and yet so far...
Israel, where air security was invented
Visit Russia (we already know who you are...)
I'm sure you can think of others. :-)
October's holiday saw a lot of things that began with O. Here's a list by city.
Oasis Tower Hotel
On (a favor or kindness)
Oita-ben book from Sayaka
Oven (a wood fired pizza one at La Porto)
Owls (marking theDokohaku tourist info)
Ouen (assistance) from strangers
One final leisurely morning and a scenic boat ride around Osaka's waterways, then we were on the Hikari shinkansen and on our way home from our vacation.
We had a fabulous time touring the O cities. I haven't returned from a holiday this relaxed and happy in years. Why was it so good? I'm not sure, but here's a clue: unless you count the interactive museum displays, I didn't touch a computer for 8 days.
Of course, here I am freshly returned and already at the console, but even 2049 spam messages or the pile of work that awaits my attention can't dampen my happy mental state.
I tried to jot notes while I was on the road but my handwriting is wretched. Still, I will get the backlog of weblog entries done shortly, so look for photos and tales of Oita, Onomichi and Osaka.
Today we finally met Niko, Zoupi's host in Belgium last summer. We met him for lunch and he spent the day doing silly things with us.
First we went to the Osaka Sewerage Science Museum. Sounds weird but we wanted to visit the last time we were in Osaka, but didn't make it. So of course it was on the top of our sightseeing list this time.
Zoupi liked this exhibit--it shows where the zoo sewage is.
What else is at the Sewerage Science Museum? Explanations of how Osaka treats its wastewater, examples of how it's reused after it's cleaned, and a lot of exhibits feature water--vortex spinners, rain simulators, wave motion generators and a quiz at the end.
Probably better than the museum was where we ended up afterwards. The train dropped us back in Umeda, the same area we'd had dinner the night before. Rather than head into the tick of things, we threaded our way into the back alleys behind a temple. And found a wonderful little izakaya presided over by this man:
His wife called him "Master" and he certainly was an excellent cook. We went in for oden, and ended up with a variety of foods, included the best goma-ae I've ever had. He served it over simmered greens and chilled green grapes. I regret not asking him for the recipe.
Here is some of the Osaka-style oden that I was eager to taste. It's a big block of tofu, simmered in a lightly seasoned broth and topped with a sheet of paper-thin seaweed. Yum! We also had simmered diakon served with grated yuzu, and a kyouimo a greyish, sticky potato I'd never had before.
I was having such a good time that I failed to take any photos of Niko. But he took one of us (in fact all the photos in this report are his) at our nijiikai. Tod is looking up the kanji on the waribashi wrapper. Tod looked up the kanji on everything during this trip--he even had to change the batteries in his electronic dictionary. He loves kanji and never passes up the opportunity to look them up. I try to be patient...can you tell in the picture?
We made one last trip up the hillside in Onomichi, then boarded the Shinkansen for Osaka.
Upon arrival, we alighted the subway at Temmabashi station. As we looked at our map, trying to decide which station exit was closest to our hotel, a woman asked if we needed help.
She was not the last person to kindly offer assistance while we were in Osaka (something that rarely happens in Tokyo), but her directions were the most striking:
"Go up those stairs there, and turn right. Then another set of stairs and turn left and go into Matsuzakaya. Go up to the seventh floor and the hotel entrance is there. Or maybe it's the sixth floor..."
Hotel on the 7th floor of a department store? Well, why not. We lived above a shopping mall in Singapore. When we got to the seventh floor, we had to ask a sales girl where to go, but sure enough, back behind the children's books was the entrance to the hotel.
After checking in and asking the front desk staff to look up a phone number for us (I saw the concierge Googling and felt nostalgic for my computer), we went out wandering. Tod had the brilliant idea to go buy a gourmet guide book at the convenience store. We made very good use of it. We found an Indian restaurant for dinner and searched out lunch the next day with the book. Yeah for Tod! Yeah for Hanako restaurant navi books!
Onomichi is one of my favorite places in Japan. It's just a little town, with a harbor on the Seto Inland Sea, a run down shopping arcade, and a hillside dotted with temples and monuments, but it speaks to me. I like the atmosphere of slow decline, the cracks in the tiles underfoot, the slow pace of life, the sea air.
And I love the view. We spent the greater part of the day gazing out from vantage points on the hillside--the ropeway to the hilltop, observation platform, the lobby of the art museum, an abandoned carnival, the literature museum, the street above an old pagoda--and catching glimpses between houses and trees as we walked back into the lower part of town. Then we sat at the quay and watched the ferries before retiring for dinner.
I think the view speaks for itself. Click to get a much larger version:
Today we went mikan hunting.
I'd seen a sign for mikangari when we were driving around Oita and it struck me a fun activity. The Seto area is known for its mikan farms, so upon arriving in Onomichi yesterday, we went to the tourist information center to ask. They gave us a map and some phone numbers for the mikan farms on Mukaishima, the island across the harbour.
This morning after breakfast, Tod called around to find one that was open, and we took the ferry over. It was a longish walk out of town to the mikan farm and we might have been the only people on the island who were walking. Everyone else had a car or a bicycle, but I was not going to spoil my holiday by riding a bike.
An older couple was sitting in a shed, weighing, trimming and taping bundles of aonegi, green onions. They were prepared for our arrival, but I don't think that a lot of Westerners arrive on foot at their farm to pick oranges. But we did and they were gracious. The woman handed us short, curved blade scissors and a plastic bag as the man explained that he'd take us up to the grove.
"It's 500 yen for all-you-can-eat, and 600 yen if you want to take them home in the bag." he told us. Then he straddled his bicycled and rode slowly up the lane, asking a million questions to Tod. The mikan grove was at the top of a hill overlooking the sea. It was fabulous.
After a quick lesson on how to select and cut the mikan, we were on our own. We spent a very happy half hour crawling under the diminutive trees hunting for the tastiest mikan. As they ripen, dark green gives way to brighter green and yellows, then becomes progressively redder until reaching a brilliant orange. Fortunately for us, partially ripe mikan are also delicious, if not quite as sweet, and we gathered a half a bag to carry back with us.
Instead of walking straight back to the ferry, we opted to make a loop around part of the island. It turned out to be a long dull walk, but enjoyable for the exercise and the chance to breathe fresh air. Tod kept hoping for a bus, but they only run four times a day, and there wasn't one when we needed it.
By late afternoon we were back in Onomichi, and visited the Motion Picture Museum, which features the films made locally. All of the tourist maps have the key roke, filming locations, marked on them but they are all for films we've never seen--old Japanese dramas and period pieces. The museum wasn't much, but it had photos from all the films and a display of old cameras and projectors. The museum's own theater (ironically, the only theatre in Onomichi) screened some clever short films made in a local contest, and a history of film in Onomichi. Made me wish I'd brought my video camera.
It's Rail Transportation Day and the nation's railways are celebrating. We joined in the fun by taking trains from Oita to Onomichi.
First we travelled on the Sonic to Kokura. The Sonic has one of the nicest interiors I've ridden in. The seats are taupe leatherette, there's plenty of legroom and the windows are nice and big. Yesterday, we rode on the "Family Wonderland" version of the Sonic between Beppu and Oita, and the interior was done up in primary colors but just as posh.
At Kokura, we transferred to the Shinkansen. From here to Hiroshima, we rode on the sleek Nozomi. It announced when it was going 300 km/hr (186 mi/hr). The landscape flew past so quickly. We were in Hiroshima in no time. Actually, it was about 45 minutes but it seems like no time at all.
Our journey continued on another Shinkanesen, the Kodama. The Kodama trains are the slowest of the Shinkansens, and they stop at all of the stations. This one took us to Shin-Onomichi. We had Car 4 to ourselves for about half of the 45 minute trip.
We celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary by being buried in very hot sand. Suna yu is a sand bath, and there are several in Beppu, the famous hot spring town nearby Oita. I was eager to try this but Tod wasn't so sure. He agreed to come along and wait for me while I bathed. But when we arrived and he saw the charming seaside location he relented. It turned out that he liked it. Lying under a heavy pile of 41 degree sand is utterly relaxing. Ten minutes passed in the blink of an eye (or 40 winks in my case), and then we had to wiggle our way out to make room for the next people.
After our sand bath, we walked up the hill to the jigoku. Jigoku means hell, and it's what the very hottest springs are called. There are 9 of them in Beppu. All are too hot to bathe in, and have been turned into tourist traps. But interesting ones...this one says "Danger, if you fall in the pond you will be boiled."
We visited three of the jigoku. At the first one, the steaming water turns white in contact with air; at the second the water was salty and claimed to prevent you from going to hell if you drank it (I had to think a long time about that, but took a tiny sip to taste it so I'll probably end up in purgatory); the third boiled like mad and threatened to splash anyone who got too close.
When we'd had our fill of Beppu's hot water, Tod treated me to a delicious and luxurious French dinner on the 21st floor restaurant of our hotel. There were five pairs of silverware bracketing our plates. We love to eat well, but don't often splash out on a ritzy meal like that. It was a treat. And the bottle of 2000 Chateauneuf du Pape was a very good wine to toast our long marriage.
Sayaka and her husband Masahi picked us up from the airport and chauffeured us around their prefecture for Saturday afternoon and all of Sunday. I could hardly believe their generosity. Although Sayaka and I have a very friendly correspondence, we've only met once. She really is a fantastic person.
Masahi works for the Oita department of agriculture and fisheries, so he is familiar with the loveliest parts of the countryside. We drove around the Kunisaki peninsula on Saturday afternoon. The color of rice as it matures for harvest is the most vivid yellow-green.
We stopped at several old temples and drove through countless tunnels and admired all of the farms and local produce. We even went past Usa, where legend has it that the clever Japanese had a lot of manufacturing plants in the 1950s. Instead of stamping their plastic toys "Made in Japan" they put "Made in Usa" before exporting them to America.
Sayaka came out to dinner with us and introduced us to several Oita specialties: toriten, tempura-style fried chicken; kabosu, a sour citrus fruit that's great in sauces or in drinks; and chicken sashimi. I was really surprised at how delicious raw chicken is...actually it's cooked tataki style, seared on the outside and raw in the middle, then sliced very thin. Mmmmm.
Sunday was a day of intermittent, intense downpours, but it didn't stop us from heading to the Oita coast. Masahi drove us to Saiki and then we boarded a ferry for the tiny island of Oonyujima. We drove around the island twice, stopping once for a terrific seafood curry lunch (We had to wait a while as we arrived two minutes after a group of 30 who had been on a fishing tour) and once for soft cream (soft-serve ice cream) while we waited for the ferry back to Saiki.
Sayaka and Masahi treated us royally. They came prepared with maps, guidebooks and pamphlets for everything in English. It was truly a treat to see so much of the countryside, though I'm afraid I was a terrible conversationalist during our rides. I was too entranced with gazing at and thinking about the passing landscape to devote much brain power to talking. If I had talked I would have been babbling all the things I was thinking--memories of other rural places, wondering about growing seasons, comparison of architecture. I think it was better for everyone that I kept all that in my head. :-)
Back in Oita city,Tod & I decided to go for a walk after dinner and while we were out, encountered a grandmother and her two grandchildren catching crabs along the castle moat. She showed us her technique: quickly press down on the back of the crab, then pick it up by the sides of the shell. I was too slow to get the pressing part, but she was really skilled at it and caught one for me that I got to hold. I'll bet she's been doing this since she was a kid. It was heartwarming to see her passing the torch to her granddaughter and grandson. And to us...
Our unusual household schedule works pretty well under normal circumstances. Tod works into the wee hours so that he can connect with colleagues in London; I rise early because I function best in the morning. We each get some quiet time alone to focus on our projects and we enjoy lunch and dinner together on most days.
But today we begin our holiday. Tourists in Japan are expected to rise early, see the sights before 5:00 when temples and museums shut their doors, then retire for drinks and dinner.
So in about 60 minutes, Tod will be wrenched back into the local time zone. I'll try to do it gently, with a hot mug of coffee and a kiss on the forehead, but it's going to be a rude awakening regardless. Tod will be sleepwalking until we reach Oita, and feeling jetlagged for a couple of days even though we're not leaving Japan.
We figured out that Tod lives on India time. Maybe next year, we'll travel there and I'll be the one making the adjustment.
Soon Tod & I will be taking our autumn holiday. This year, we're staying in Japan and touring cities that begin with O--Oita, Onomichi and Osaka. We'll fly to Oita, then take trains on the way back towards Tokyo.
Having just paid for our tickets and hotels, and thinking that it was an awful lot of money for domestic travel, I was wondering what a comparable itinerary in the US would cost.
So using Pittsburgh as our starting point, I priced a trip to Chicago, Indianapolis and Cincinnati with 8 nights in hotels similar in quality to the places we'll stay in Japan.
|Japan (yen)||USA (dollars)|
If you convert the yen to dollars, then it's easier to see that our Japan holiday will cost about $750 more than a comparable trip in the US. Pretty crazy...but the experiences will be worth the money. I love getting away from Tokyo and seeing other parts of the country.
And of course, if we wanted to travel to the US, it would set us back a few thousand dollars, so in the end, it's less expensive to travel domestically for our holiday.
Last October she organized a poetry workshop in Ireland that I attended along with my entire immediate family.
It's on again for this October 11 - 18.
I highly recommend it. Not just because it features a talented poet that I used to play Barbies with...though that might have a little bit to do with it.
During our week's stay in Ireland, I learned huge amount of stuff--from practical writing tricks on how to create metaphor and write concrete descriptions to revelations of my personal inner strife that writing poetry seemed to bring to the surface.
And the rugged western coast of County Cork, Ireland, is a beautiful place. It's easy to see why people think Ireland is magical. Rainbows, beautiful skies, so much green. Just like they always say, only better. Not to mention the only-in-Ireland beers in the local pubs.
If you're looking for an interesting, educational and uplifting week's holiday this year, please take a look at the details for the 2003 Anam Cara Poetry Workshop.
I seem to be anti-adjusting to the time here.
When you travel to Japan from the US, jetlag tends to make you wake up extra early. That's one of the reasons Tsukiji Fish Market is in all the travel guides--it's one of the few things to do before 10 am in this city.
So when I woke at 5:30 on Monday I was expecting it. But yesterday I got up at 5 and here I am, writing this at 4:06 in the morning--50 minutes after I woke up.
I'd hoped to go back to sleep, but my brain is working and sleep's not going to happen. I think I'll make some coffee now. And take a nap this afternoon.
Finally back in the right time zone--all my clocks and timepieces agree with the local time. My kitchen clock and my system clock are in agreement. I don't have to add 3 and switch day for night. Unfortunately my body clock is just plain confused.
There is nothing nicer than coming home. I knew I was missing Japan, but I didn't realise how much until we got off the train and I saw the neon and crowds and bustle of Ueno. Ah, home!
Of course, now I will miss all of my family and friends, but since most of them have agreed to come visit "soon" I won't miss them for too long.
I don't sleep well before I travel. Even though I'm mostly packed and ready to go at 9:30 for our 12:40 flight, I'm still wide awake and ready for action at 6:00 this morning.
It's really quiet here as I sit on the sofa bathed in the blue light of my laptop and the the city-orange glow of the still dark morning. I can hear the fridge whining and the server in the laundry room is doing something with its disks. John just coughed and I hear his feet padding down the hall to the bathroom. My keypresses are explosions.
To pass the time until everyone else gets up, I will blog, check my mail, maybe read news until the sun comes up. It's really nice to be alone for a few minutes.
My computer says it's 5:28 on Thursday morning. The clock on the stove across the room says 2:28 in the afternoon on Wednesday. Kris is climbing the stairs to the apartment--coming home early from work. John is telecommuting on a conference call in the other room. Tod is working on a programming project. I am in my pajamas having just finished some work of my own.
Time is topsy-turvey. I think I blogged for Tuesday on Monday night, when it was already Tuesday in Tokyo. Have I blogged for today yet?
We've reached the last leg of the trip. Now we're in Chicago and it's really cold here: 9 F (-16 C). By the time we'd taken the unheated train into the city and waited on the corner of a windy street for the lights to change, I was so cold my hands were blue and my body was shaking.
I do not like winter anymore.* It used to be my favorite season but what was I thinking? Give me autumn or spring, please. Maybe short term extremes--a week of cold and a nice juicy snowstorm--would be OK.
*I will recognise these advantages to winter: roaring fires, hot chocolate, cuddling under the covers on a chilly morning.
I don't feel jet lagged at all today. I slept for 12 hours and woke up with my headcold still raging. Maybe I am jetlagged, but I can't tell becasue of the coughing.
To kill time until I could go to bed again, I took Ferry, my laptop, to have her broken CD-R/DVD drive replaced. Now I'm upgrading her to Mac OS X. Tomorrow I'll install applications. The fun never ends.
A ten day vacation away from Japan is 40% travel. I've just ended a 25 hour door-to-door travel day and am looking forward to a long bath, dinner and a good night's sleep.
Once I'm rested and caught up, I'll fill in the missing entries (Oct 12-19) with all my Ireland exploits & the poetry I wrote at the workshop.
We're off to Ireland for a week-long poetry workshop taught by my sister and her colleague, Jack McGuigan.
The trip to London was one of physical challenges. I bruised a toe while making the bed before we left. On the plane, the people sitting behind me dropped their bag on my head instead of putting it into the bin. Later in the flight, the drunken woman in front of me tipped her ice into my shoe, then, not realising that the stuff under her seat was not hers, she tried it on.
Once we arrived in London, we had a better time. Our friends Moritz and Franziska hosted us for the night. We had a wonderful paella. Their daughter loved her omiyage--a brand new Zou, of course--and may have loved Zoupi even more. I had to hide him before we left the next morning.
Our flight to Cork was uneventful but after we arrived, we learned that the bus to Anam Cara was overbooked--we didn't have a seat. A flurry of questions and phone calls had us on a bus to Glengariff (where's that!?) and Jenn & Jack drove out to pick us up at "the pub down the road from where the bus drops you--it has a man's name Johhny D's, maybe?" It was John Barry's and we were very grateful to have a pint after the long trip!
Zoupi is still enjoying his vacation in Belgium. He's travelled all over and amassed an extensive photo album. Here he is in Brussels with Manneken Pis, the famous fountain that inspired the funny Suntory Dakara commercials. (Click on the videotape, then navigate the menu to choose MPG or animated gifs--you don't really need to understand the Japanese to see the humor).
I can't believe my stuffed elephant is having a summer holiday and I'm not! But I'll get my turn eventually. If not soon, then in the autumn when we go to Ireland for my sister's poetry workshop.
Since there's no summer vacation for me, this wretched season could end itself any day, thank you. We're having a 35 degree heat wave this week. I wilt in heat, just like my plants. I've started the countdown to October, when the weather will be nice again--53 days.
I'm itching to get out of Tokyo for a daytrip.
In the first two years we lived here, we often went for hikes or short trips on the weekends. We travelled all over Japan on these little jaunts.
But the last two years have been more settled--on the weekends we have social engagements, work commitments, volunteering activities, meetings. So we don't just go away any more.
But I miss travelling and seeing new things. There are so many places in Japan that I haven't been and many that I'd like to revisit. I must start planning now...
Getting away from Tokyo gives me a chance to make comparisons when I return.
For example,Tokyo has much better subways and trains. London's Tube is small, dirty, and subject to lots of delays as old switching equipment fails regularly. The Tokyo subway system is efficient, clean and relatively inexpensive. But London's trains aren't as crowded as Tokyo's.
Water pressure in Tokyo is better than in London. Apparently, the London mains have fine pressure, but buildings don't use the mains--they put water in tanks on the roof and use that. So the pressure is pretty poor, especially in upper storey flats. This may not mean much to the casual vistor, but living without good water pressure makes showering and dishwashing lothesome chores.
Food is a draw. Althought British food has a reputation for being bland and fatty (and it's a well-earned reputation), London has a great variety of restaurants from around Europe. Japan has better native cuisine, but it's hard to find Polish or Greek food here.
Overall, with only a week's experiences, I certainly prefer Tokyo to London.
Home again, home again.
London has really great sandwiches; British women all wear cosmetics; the Tube is ridiculously expensive; salaries are not commensurate with the cost of living in London; the ham in Buckingham (and Hampstead, Nottingham, West Ham) is from the Old English word for home; the growl of a Lancaster bomber flying over the city is ominous; multiculturalism and the class system exist side-by-side; candy vending machines are evil temptations; nobody else gardens like the British; police have a sense of humour and humanity unmatched elsewhere.
And I did speak Japanese. On purpose. Once.
I'm off to London this morning. The car to the airport is due to arrive in just over an hour. I'm ready, but now begins the race to get Tod up, dressed and out the door on time. He has coffee at his bedside, but I'm afraid it isn't working yet. In a few minutes I will break out the heavy artillery--English muffins.
I'm looking forward to escaping Tokyo for a little bit but it's odd to realise I'm traveling to a foreign country where I won't have to struggle with the language. I wonder if I'll speak Japanese by accident?
It rains often here. Every evening, the clouds roll in from the south and we have a nice downpour while we cook dinner. Then the clouds break up and the sky is full of stars. Every other day, we see more clouds than sun.
But this is good. Not only does it fill the catchment that provides water for the house, but it offers opportunities to see rainbows (so far I've spotted four) and even a moonbow.
I thought moonbows were legend but they are real. A pale shining arc of light comes from nowhere and leads to heaven. There are no colors, just soft white light. Incredibly lovely.
Flock of Parrots. Great name for an 80's pop/Jimmy Buffet cover band. Also an actual sight and sound at our Hawaiian retreat.
Parrots are noisy squawkers when they fly but they sure are pretty. Their green plumage with red and pink on the head and yellow beaks makes quite a spectacle as they wing across the cliffside in a gang of 20 birds.
Whales! Yesterday morning, I swore I saw a black fin arcing up out of the water, but I was the only one who saw it. Later in the afternoon, I spotted another. Once again, I was the only one.
But I wasn't halucinating. Within the hour we were standing at the railling of the lower deck of our house, cheering on the three small, black whales who were flapping their tails and spouting water. They were playing in the inlet 100 meters from where we stood. What a sight!
How can I be here in Italy and have nothing to say?
I'm not sure, but I think jetlag has finally hit me. I could curl up under the table and sleep now (it's 11 am here). My powers of observation are limited to Internet points and caffe bars. Please, more caffeine and a 'Net connection.
Of course this is an art mecca and there are hundreds of famous paintings and statues within a 500 meter radius of my seat at this Internet station. Sure, there's plenty of glorious architecture just waiting to be viewed. But I'll skip it all for a nap and a book.
Don't let anyone fool you; travel is tiring. Caffe espresso, anyone?
Rome is amazing.
Layer upon layer of history. We came across an aquaduct last night whose ancient water line was at street level. It's supporting arches were excavated to a depth of about 10 meters below the street.
Everywhere we turn there are more old things to see. Churches, temples, scavenged columns, Bernini churches and sculptures, Baroque and Rennaissance buildings side by side. History really comes alove here. It's bewildering but beautiful.
Rome is also a city for coffee lovers. We've already been into three bars this morning (coffee bars, not pubs) for caffe--a single shot of espresso. A mere 1,200 lira (about 60 cents) gives us enough caffeine to help counter the weird jet lag we're experiencing.
This afternoon we visit the Vatican. Tomorrow we're off to Florence.
I miss rice.
I can understand why Japanese people seek out Japanese restaurants when they travel abroad. I am so sick of American food. Please, some miso soup and tsukemono!
Alas, it is not to be. I leave America tomorrow for Italy. In fact, for the next week postings will be erratic. I'll be in Italy and although there are plenty of cafes and coffee bars (I'm looking forward to that heavenly Italian espresso), I don't know how many of them have Internet access.
So pop in to check. I'll post if I can.
Shoppping in America is really fun.
We've travelled back to the States for a family wedding and I spent my afternoon in a mall.
Ostensibily, we were buying things for the bride but I had a bit of a spree, too. I couldn't help it. Everything fits and it's all so inexpensive. I bought shoes today--a pair of clogs and some dress boots--and paid just a little more than what I'd pay for a single pair in Tokyo (assuming I could find ones to fit my long feet).
It's tempting to snatch up all sorts of bargain goodies. But I have only one small suitcaes with me, so I must show some restraint!