Love at First Sight

Each year, the world wide obsession with  (cherry blossoms) seems to increase.  To be in Japan during this season is to experience a spectacle unlike any other.  Its arrival throughout the country is calculated carefully by meteororologists, its likely bloom period examined, from buds to peak, to the emergence of  leaves marking the end of the season.  Its affect(effect?) on Japanese culture cannot be underestimated.  It’s an immersive, communal, joyful, yet bittersweet experience.  From specially designed foods and drinks, to store window displays, to accessories and clothing, you surrender to it while in Japan during Sakura season.  It’s frothy and short-lived, but that only reinforces the sense of urgency to enjoy it while you have it, because it all will disappear within a few short weeks. It reminds us of the impermanence of life.

It quickly becomes party time in Japan as the blooms emerge and friends and colleagues gather together under the blossoms to sip sake and eat pink colored rice.  The mood of the crowd is buoyant and contagious. Must be seen to be believed. Crowds of tourists, however, have made the more popular gathering spots decidedly less enjoyable for this visitor.

Sakura season is not unlike the sequence of Think Pink in the movie Funny Face, depicting  a pink world , https://youtu.be/KX6TaA6IRkk. A good dose of Pink can brighten anyone’s day, as good as looking at the world through rose colored glasses, or at least through pink cellophane as I loved doing as a child through a lollipop wrapper.

Had enough cherry blossoms?

Enter the humble morning glory, a flower of summer, taken to new heights by the Japanese delight in them.  I first knew I was going to love Japan, because during  my first trip to Tokyo, I discovered the Morning Glory Festival.

Iriya Asagao Matsuri (Morning Glory Festival)

Iriya Asagao Matsuri, held from July 6 to 8 every year, is the largest festival in Japan dedicated to morning glories. The 60 producers and 96 fair stalls that line Iriya Kishimojin—meaning Iriya’s goddess of childbirth and children, and the common name for Shingen-ji Temple—and Kototoi-dori Street attract as many as 400,000 people during the three-day period each year. (In Tokyo)

The morning glories of Iriya are said to have gained fame around the late Edo period. The flowers were initially cultivated in Okachimachi, and as times changed they switched hands to producers in Iriya. By the mid Meiji period, the Iriya breeds were so attractive that they became popular as decorative plants.

In their heyday, Iriya’s producers created some thousand varieties of morning glory through deliberate cross-pollination. The flowers momentarily vanished from Iriya in the Taisho period. And after the Second World War, a team of locals and the Shitaya Tourism Association revived the tradition and organized the Asagao Matsuri as we know it today.

Visitors to the three-day seasonal event are sure to experience the summer of Edo through the morning glories that have delighted natives of every generation, from Edokko to Tokyoites. Gotokyo.org.

Way back when, we woke up very early in the morning on our first day in Tokyo.  Going back to sleep was not an option even though it was still dark. I was restless, eager to discover a new city.   I’d read in a guide book that the Tsukiji Fish Market opened for business very early.  Bingo.  Something my husband might enjoy because the name fish was attached.  An ideal destination. He gave me no resistance, even though it meant crossing the city. Little did I know that it was the time of Asagao Matsuri (Morning Glory Festival.)

As we approached the market, I noted small pots of deep blue morning glories along the sides of walkways.  I think this was the moment I first fell in love with Japan.

I immediately decided that a country that sets aside a few days to honor a humble flower, must have something going for it!

I have since learned there’s history and art behind the crowning of the morning glory as an important summer flower. It was imported originally from China for the medicinal uses of the seeds.  The Japanese were the first to grow if for decorative purposes.  During the Edo period, it reached the height of popularity.

In this vivid display of rich blue and green against a gold-leaf background,Suzuki Kiitsu concentrated on the proliferation of the blossoms and leaves by omitting any indication of space or context. The exuberant outburst is carefully orchestrated into two movements: the blossoms on the right rise up from the ground, while those on the left cascade down as if supported by an unseen trellis.

Trained as a textile dyer, Kiitsu studied painting under Sakai Hōitsu (1761–1828), with whom he prepared an illustrated compendium of classic Rinpa art, One Hundred Paintings by Kōrin (Kōrin hyakuzu). Evident in these screens, especially in the brilliant decorative effects of thick mineral pigments on gold leaf, is the influence of both textile design and the Rinpa school.  Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Here a more spare interpretation of morning glories  by artist Tawaraya Sori, 17th C,

Needless to say, I came home and tried to grow some Japanese strains of morning glory, ordered online from seeds . They were pretty, but I obviously didn’t have the knack of it to go from pretty to breathtaking.  I was lucky to get three blossoms the entire summer.  A dismal record.  This year I’m going to try again.

Each time I see a morning glory brings me back to the First Time I saw them celebrated and displayed in Japan and the feeling I had of Love at First Sight. There’s nothing as intoxicating as Young Love (nor any flower more beautiful than a morning glory!)

P.S.If you’re intrigued you can easily find sources for seeds online.  Let me know how it works out for you1

Prepare to Die

Without fail, a week before I am scheduled to take a flight, an inner voice matter of factly informs me that I am likely to perish on the upcoming flight.  That grim warning sets in motion an irrational and neurotic search to convince myself otherwise.

My fears center  mostly about the weather and what turbulence I can expect to encounter on the flight.  I begin to look at long-term forecasts for my place of departure as well as arrival. En route forecasts are hit or miss since the flight plan is not set in stone. There’s a very good chance that if the arrival/departure cities are “in for it” I’ll find a reason, not necessarily disclosed to anyone, to postpone or delay my flight.

Tornado/thunderstorm activity is to be avoided at all costs, so this means if it’s during the spring/summer season of thunderstorms, I make certain that landing doesn’t occur in late afternoon, a more frequent period of storm activity.

I have literally flown dozens of times.  For a while in my youth, I gave up flying after a grueling flight and traveled only by train for a few ridiculous years. This being America, it was not a sustainable solution. I’m better than I used to be, but it’s still not a piece of cake. It’s an endurance test. I congratulate  myself in showing courage and at least haven’t taken a vow never to fly again like some scaredy cats do.  It’s a necessary means to an end and I’ve determined I must endure it if I want to travel.  My mind has trouble concentrating on two issues at once, so playing music I like can help some to distract, but truly not enough.  Kind of like the Lamaze method for breathing during childbirth.  Better than nothing, right?

If the flight is smooth, no problem. I even fall asleep. However, when the seat belt sign is illuminated, I am on guard.  I check outside the window to see what’s going on.  If it looks stormy, I’ll pull the shade down, tighten my seat belt, pop a tranquilizer and mutter things to myself like “This too shall pass.” If the flight attendants are asked to be seated, that’s an indication that we’re not in a game for sissies.  Time to check out the facial expressions of the attendants and hope to receive some consolation from the fact that they are not showing an ounce of fear. I think those facial muscles must have been cut when they sign up for the job.

I have been known to refuse to board a plane if it looks like it’s going to take off headlong into a storm. By all rights, I’m sure the airport should be closed.  My husband has departed without me, unable to contain his disgust with my cowardliness.  All he’ll say to me is, “The pilot doesn’t want to die.”  My reply?  “How do you know?”

I rationally understand that turbulence isn’t dangerous as long as my seatbelt is tight across my lap.   On an instinctual level, in extreme turbulence, I KNOW a plane could easily fall apart. Just like breaking a neck if you’re jerked around too much.

I compulsively count to 5 right after liftoff because a friend of mine who’s a pilot told me that period of seconds is really the only period of danger during a flight. That’s easy enough as long as the plane lifts off relatively soon after barreling down the runway.  If the prelude to the liftoff seems to be taking too long, that could in my mind. be a sign of trouble. So far, the planes I’m riding in have always lifted off.

I’ve tried drinking alcohol which helps a bit, but not for long if the adrenalin is coursing through me.  If it’s pretty rough during the flight, I’ll sneakily take a Xanax, not telling anyone I’m traveling with, because I know they think I just get dopey, which is undoubtedly true, but better that than to be trembling in fear as far as I’m concerned.

I came of age singing Come Fly with Me” and Starliner.  I can easily get into that mode if “weather wise it’s such a lovely day.”  What’s more thrilling?

I know most people do not consider flying their favorite activity. I think we all have our own reasons.  Let’s face it, if God really meant for us to fly, we’d all have wings.

New Ways to have Enough fun on Vacation while approaching 80

I’ve learned to redefine what it takes to enjoy a vacation. Enjoyment and enough being the key word here.  Non stop activity has largely vanished as something to be desired or enjoyed while vacationing.  It’s been replaced  by a more laissez faire point of view.  

In the mornings, no longer do I have to hit the streets running which is good because that would literally be an impossibility with asthma and hip bursitis.   It’s rather delicious to linger in the morning for much too  long  over my cup-o’tea.  I can  leisurely check my email, stare at the beautiful color of apple green that I painted on an outside wall, and idly wonder what happened to the butterflies that were supposed to be inhabiting the butterfly garden in front of my house.  They were here en masse the last time we visited.  At some point, it will feel right to take a shower and consider making  the bed while deciding which colorful t-shirt to wear to complement this bright and  sunny day. Continue reading “New Ways to have Enough fun on Vacation while approaching 80”

Key WEST Many Years Later

What is it that attracts us to a place?  Does it remain the same through life?

Last year, after a long hiatus, my husband and I decided to vacation in Key West.  We used to come here for a yearly getaway while living in college and then when newly married. In the 1950’s it seemed more remote than it does today, traffic and development have increased with few benefits that I can see.  It could be easy to fall into the “you should have seen it 50 years ago syndrome,” but my memory is not keen enough to have a clear image of what it all used to look like.  All that I really recalled clearly was the lure of the oceans surrounding the keys.  Depending on where you live and your life experiences, Key West probably means different things to you than it does to me.

If from the West Coast, probably nothing.

If from the East or Mid-West:

T shirt shoppes, bad art galleries and thousands of cruise passengers looking for Paradise on Duval Street?

If of a certain age:

Lily Pulitzer? Sloppy Joes?

yummy Lily fabric designs

Ernest Hemingway/Tennessee Williams/literary history (It’s almost an obsession here.  Stay away from his house if you’re allergic to cats.)

If still in college:

Drunken revelers?

To everyone:

Gorgeous sunsets? water, water? blue, aquamarine, turquoise.  JImmy Buffett

 

Key lime pie? Stone crabs?

Kermits key lime pie, do partake!

cigars?sponges? wreckers?

overseas railroad?

roosters?  Roosters and chickens can appear anywhere at any time.  It adds to the Bahamian feel of the place.  Sometimes they frighten me if they all of a sudden crow loudly when I don’t see them in nearby bushes. I imagine them snickering at me from their hiding spots when they see me jump in fear.

I had a few hazy memories of Key West in the early ’60’s, nothing that matches  the current reality. No matter.  Many of the things I’m drawn to are intact.  This trip, I was blown away by the numbers of historic buildings here.  Stuff rarely got torn town so that most everything that survived the fire of the late 1880’s is still remaining. Thanks to the lgbt community, the once dilapidated remains have largely been restored and probably never looked better. Key West now has the largest number of wooden historic houses of any town or city in the USA.

Continue reading “Key WEST Many Years Later”