We’d been on the road for a few hours when hunger began to gnaw at our bones again and a bathroom break was in demand.  There were no restaurants that we could see on this remote stretch of the Noto Penninsula, least of all a comfort station.

Suddenly, as if a mirage had appeared, we spied a giant structure that had a small sign in front of it with the universal fork and knife symbol, signifying that this would be a place to find lunch and other amenities.  It looked like a big hotel, but seemed strangely of place in this location.

eat symbol

It turned out to be a giant structure that provided a gym, cafeteria and huge swimming pool where older folks from the local countryside came to exercise,socialize and grab a bite to eat . They looked at us oddly as we entered, asking us to remove our shoes, then politely showing us the direction of the cafeteria.   We required help ordering our lunch from a machine, then settled down to wait for our food, trying to look as if we belonged and hadn’t just landed from outer space.  Most people didn’t pay a lot of attention to us, although we were clearly the outsiders.

After ordering, my husband departed to use the bathroom facilities.  He seemed to be gone a long time. Soon, I began to wonder if he’d somehow gotten lost in this large building.

Suddenly, a woman from the front desk shouted out someone’s name in alarm, then ran high speed across the large lobby to get them.  The two wasted no time and ran off together back across the lobby.  I thought maybe one of the elderly people in the gym had gotten injured, or perhaps worse.

I continued to wait for my husband to reappear.  Finally,  he appeared with a very sheepish grin on his face. I began to put 2 + 2 together.

sheepish grin

The Japanese toilet systems all differ a little bit in terms of how to use their flushing mechanisms.  Some flush automatically, others flush by waving your hand in front of a sensor, others have an old fashioned flusher and some are activated from an elaborate panel where you initially do a fair amount of guessing about what each symbol means.  It’s often a challenging yet amusing game of hide and seek.

flusher 3 flusher 2 flush panel sensor

When my husband gets frustrated while working on a computer, he’s met with some past success by just pushing a number of buttons until he randomly selects the right one.  Unable to locate the method of flushing the toilet in this bathroom, he took to pushing buttons and accidentally activated the emergency call button.  He said he immediately recognized his mistake, but it was too late.  He thought that if he hurried, he might get out of there before anyone identified him as the culprit.

Unfortunately, just as he was emerging from the men’s room, the two workers rushed in, prepared for God-knows-what.

I think they instantly understood what had happened as my husband greeted them, turning his palms up in another universal symbol,  hopefully recognized as “busted!”

We ate our lunch quietly and left trying not to appear too conspicuous.


The Revenge of the Firefly Squid

Firefly squid.  Just think how much fun life could be if your first name was “Firefly.”  Firefly Vapnek sounds very interesting, don’t you think?  I think the name “Firefly”initially influenced how I felt about eating these small creatures.  Fireflies are beautiful; to be caught, enjoyed and valued as a seasonal treat.


I’d never heard of firefly squid until we traveled to Ishikawa Prefecture in Japan for a self guided tour of the Noto Peninsula.  From what I’ve learned since our visit, they have spectacular bioluminescent properties in the water, glowing a pulsating electric blue as they congregate in the spring to mate. This is the time of year they become targets for the fishermen and for the mouths of eager Japanese.

blue squid

The squid made its first appearance in my life as part of a set menu at a famous sushi restaurant in Kanazawa. I’d had several cups of sake before the grinning chef put the squirming little guys on a small platter before us.  I watched and videoed as the chef separated and cooked them on a hot rock in front of us.  I was equally fascinated and horrified, but the world of fish is ruled by the maxim of eat or be eaten.  I wouldn’t have been at a sushi restaurant if I believed the catching, cooking and eating of fish and other ocean creatures was unethical.  In case you missed the- not -for -the -squeamish- or -animal -rights -activists video on my facebook page, here it is:

Unfortunately, my firefly squid encounters continued for several days.  They were on every set dinner menu that was presented to us at ryokans we visited.  I ate them raw, as tempura, then preserved in vinegar. I went from initial curiosity to decidedly-less-than -happy to see them reappear on my plate, but I managed to eat them with no problem, especially since I try to fit into my adopted country. But, the squid had started to be a running joke for me and my husband.

Until they appeared at my breakfast table!

shabu shabu

This time, they were served as an ingredient of shabu-shabu.  They were to be placed and cooked in a pot of boiling broth, along with other, more savory ingredients. I cooked most of the vegetables first, but ultimately I was faced with the remaining squid. I gamely put it into the sizzling pot.

All went ok until I tried to remove the squid from the broth.  It unexpectedly split in two as I tried to extract it, literally spilling its red guts into the broth.  My usually calm and appreciative demeanor while eating Japanese food vanished abruptly. I watched  in horror as the simmering both, which you’re supposed to drink after all ingredients have been cooked in it,  slowly turned pink and pinker. Breakfast was now over.

Yuck!!! was quickly followed by, “This is disgusting, I can’t even look at this anymore!”  My husband was amused.  I was not. I quickly covered the remaining uneaten squid with a small bowl, so that I didn’t have to see it.  I was forever done with eating firefly squid.

I won’t be changing my name to “firefly” anytime soon.


The Return of the Happy Wanderer


One of the many songs I took great pleasure in lustily singing during my childhood and young adulthood was called The Happy Wanderer.  When I headed out for a day in nature, I sang this song. I taught it to my children when they were growing up so that we could all sing it together when we went for a hike. It would provide some momentum for them to keep going.  Plus, if they were singing, they couldn’t complain.   Guess who sang the loudest?

OK,  I admit it’s just a step beyond Patti Page’s insipid How Much is that Doggie in the Window?

No, I never ever went around singing Patti Page songs.

I haven’t thought of The Happy Wanderer for years. It’s never appears on any Best of the Oldies Goldies lists.  What brought it to mind, was the pleasure I’m taking from being out of doors on the quiet and beautiful Noto Penninsula of Japan.


Here are the abbreviated lyrics.  I particularly loved the ha ha ha ha, and could come close to tears at the poignancy of the final stanza.

“The Happy Wanderer”
I love to go a wandering 
Along the mountain track
And as I go
I love to sing
My knapsack on my back

Val-deri, val-dera
Val-deri, val-dera
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha
My knapsack on my back

I wave my hat to all I meet
And They wave back to me
And blackbirds call so loud and sweet
From ev’ry green wood tree

Val-deri, val-dera ,etc.

Val-deri, val-dera, etc.

Come join my happy song

Oh, may I go a-wandering
Until the day I die
Oh, may I always laugh and sing
Beneath God’s clear blue sky.

Repeat chorus.

Laugh if you will, but I hope my post suggests there’s still time for another happy song.  Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.


Where’s Mary Oliver When you Need Her?

rocks and water

6AM. Tip of the Noto Penninsula.  Japan

Words fail, as I suppose they should, in the presence of such awe inspiring natural beauty.  I resort to taking photos, then videos, but of course, nothing quite captures the essence of this setting. I know one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, could have nailed it.  She wouldn’t need an iphone camera.   She’d probably just sit patiently in the midst of this delicate morning and  words would come to her.


I’m at a loss for the way to do that, but still want to share it. The best I can do is share my 6AM morning video. But, the file was too large, and I haven’t figured out how to edit it.

I was spellbound watching the many birds flying over the ocean just outside my window, but the video didn’t capture that.  They flew easily as singles, in pairs or in groups of eight or ten. Some flying east, others intent on a western path.  Some barely skimming the surface of the calm water, others a hundred feet above it. I think they’re swallows.

Are they too thinking, how splendid the morning?

new growth