How is Everything?

I generally see myself as a relatively easy going and compassionate person.  An uglier, impatient side of my personality reveals itself when I eat at certain California restaurants. I’m surprised by the depth of my annoyance. And, it’s only getting worse.

pet-peeve

I have pet peeves with many restaurants in California.  They can cause an otherwise fine meal to turn unpleasant. There are some restaurant practices that ought to be eliminated and never should have begun. But it’s been contagious and now these scenarios described below are very common.  They arouse an inner nastiness and a penchant for sarcasm in me that can border on the abusive.  The key words there are “in me.” Fortunately, I rarely verbalize my disdain.  Well, only once or twice, when I absolutely couldn’t stand it anymore.

Scenario One

I’ve just met a long lost friend for lunch/dinner.  We’re happy to see each other and quickly become engaged in an intense conversation, catching up with each other.  The menu is on the table, but we haven’t glanced at it yet.  We’re connecting.

Out of nowhere the bright smiling face of a server appears, asking us if we’d like to order.  Our conversation is instantly interrupted without any hesitation. It’s sometimes hard to pick back up again and harder still not to resent the interruption.

Note to managers:  Please train your staff to remember it’s rude to interrupt.  They most likely learned this years ago when they were toddlers.  You and they are going against the grain of established politeness.

Second Scenario.

I’ve ordered my food.  It’s been delivered. It’s been in front of me about 6 seconds. I may or may not have had time to take a bite.  Again, out of nowhere, a smiling server rushes over, “How is everything?? ” he/she gleefully asks.  A little later in the meal, another unwarranted appearance is made.  I’m  busy talking or eating when I’m confronted again.  “Is there anything else you need?” or “Is everything all right?   Or, the favored stand-by  “how is everything?”

Go away.  Don’t bother me. You might have good intentions, but… If I need to let you know how my food is tasting, I’ll find you.  If I need something else that’s missing from the meal, I’ll find you. If I’ve dropped my silverware, I’ll find you. If you’ve forgotten the popover that’s supposed to come with my rib roast, I’ll find you.   FYI, The food is the same as it was when it first came to my table.  No one switched plates on me. No need to ask again.  EVER!  (See?  Just nasty.)

disclaimer: Actually, there is one thing I want to be sure you keep an eye on.  It’s is my need for a drink refill, be it water or wine or cocktail.  That’s ALL you need to keep an eye on.  Don’t approach the table unless you see a glass that’s been drained. Only then, may you ask me if I’d like a refill.empty-glasses

Third  Scenario

eating-in-the-cold

It’s winter in Central California.  Although it’s warmer than most of the country, it does get cold, particularly once the sun sets.  That’s cold enough to need to wear several warm layers and even wrap a scarf around your exposed neck to keep warm.

Some restaurants attempt to delude themselves and their clients, pretending to be in the exotic tropics, serving food indoors and outdoors year round.   Beware of restaurants that have their front doors open in 50-degree weather, even if it does mean that there’s one less move required to go inside and it initially looks welcoming. An open door really means you’ll be freezing through dinner or awkwardly wearing all your outside clothes while you’re sitting inside, wondering why you have to pay for such an experience.

Beware also of restaurants who are still serving dinners on their patios or courtyards during the dark nights of winter.  That means an open door policy as well so that the waiters can pass easily between the indoors and outdoors with plates of food. While the doors are open, the outside diners huddle together under heat lamps and those inside must pile on their clothing layers just so their hands work well enough to hold silverware and bring food to their hungry mouths.

Another note to managers:  Just close the damn doors, please.  Recognise that night time temps in CA in the winter are generally in the low 50’s or 40’s.  This is the time to create a cozy INDOORS atmosphere, not one that feels as if I’m eating in a refrigerator.   99.9% of diners are capable of opening your front door, no matter what the temperature.  Regarding your back door, those tourists must be taught to eat inside.

Fourth Scenariorestaurant-disgust

The first question out of a servers’mouth is “Have you eaten here before?”  Even if it’s a lie, please say yes.  If not, we all might be subjected to an item by item recitation of everything on the menu.  It’s as if no one except the server is able to read.  Then, creative embellishments are added.  For example, if the menu says sauteéd they’ll tell me with what and with how much.  They’re also capable of making up stuff, telling diners whether items are wild when they’re not, or they have no idea. Beware of mushroom descriptions as well, usually, they’re  just plain brown, but they’re claimed to be wild. This might be a self-indulgent moment for the server to shine on center stage, but it’s pure torture for me.

If I have a question, please let me ask it.

Fifth Scenario

I stop eating out.

CHAPTER ONE CONCLUDES

iris

The first chapter of Living Life in Kyoto came to a sweet conclusion yesterday.  Upon returning home after too many hours of travel, I immediately hit my bed.  Hours later, the sweet voice of my youngest granddaughter shook me out of my stupor to regain a few hours of daylight consciousness. Sleep called again as soon as it turned dark.

When I’m happy, I tend to gush.  My husband is typically more restrained unless he’s got a fishing rod in his hand with a big struggling fish on the end of it.  I held back from telling him how successful I felt our trial run in Kyoto had been because he rarely “feels it” like I do.  However, my need to share my delight got the best of me.

me:  Wasn’t it any amazing two weeks? him: Yeah, it was fun.

emotional options

Ok, that’s what you get when you marry two people whose emotional responses to events are on opposite ends of the spectrum. But, I’ll take it. From my point of view,  our Kyoto trial was a great success and the truth was, my husband seemed happy too.

kaiseki 2
kaiseki, the Ultimate in Japanese haute cuisine.
izakaya, Japanese pub cusisine.
izakaya, Japanese pub cuisine.

Dan takes his restaurant hunts and discoveries very seriously and I happily relied on him to find a place for us to eat each night.  With literally dozens and dozens of wonderful options right our our front door, he relished the task of checking out every restaurant entry we passed that looked intriguing. He made lists and even a map. That to me says, Engagement.

Kyoto is a gourmand’s heaven and our apartment is at ground central.  From tofu to soba to kaiseki to izakaya to french pastries, pizza and home made green tea soft serve, it’s all there at our eager fingertips.

Japanese French bakery
Japanese French bakery

Of course, enthusiastic indulging does have it’s downside.  blowfish

We did have a few challenges but nothing that wasn’t overcome with the help of some  very dear friends who remained close by to speak and translate Japanese and explain the system to us as needed.

Physically, my biggest challenge is the development of painful blisters on my feet that begin to plague me after a few days of heavy duty walking.  This unfortunate situation happens a lot to me.  This trip, I broke down and bought myself a pair of crocs, but even that didn’t prevent the blisters from getting worse.  I’m going to have to find a solution for that somehow, because by the end of these last two weeks I was walking  like a VERY old woman.  I’ve got about one month to heal and locate a better pair of walking shoes until my feet will be put to the test on a return visit yo Japan in mid-June!  Bring it on.old woman walking

SING ALONG WITH YOUR ELECTRIC APPLIANCES!

It comes as a reappearing mild shock each time the toilet dings at me when I’m within its range. It lifts its lid invitingly.  It will sing as well, playing recorded tunes such as In the Mood when a person with the need sits herself down on its seat.

OUR TOILET

When we first tried our new toilet, it played lite classical. Now, the musical selections have been adjusted to rotate through Satie, classical, and classic pop.  Once in every 6 or 7 visits, I get bird song , my personal favorite. The “music” continues until you complete your mission.  It is usually an amusing and surprising distraction, but can quickly turn into an irritant if your stay is extended.  Ironically, while masking sounds emanating from the body, it also announces to anyone within earshot, that the toilet is definitely in use!singing birds

My remarkable single appliance washing/drying machine, as if to reward me, plays a jolly tune after I’ve loaded it and managed to push the correct buttons to set it in motion.  Its sweet 5 second jingle always requires a brief improvisational dance.

Where else on the face of this dear earth are you encouraged to sing and dance while performing the daily routine of personal and household maintenance?

Coming to Terms with a Memory

Renge-ji temple is a small out- of -the- way Buddhist temple in Kyoto that has resonated in my memory for several years.

flowers

In typical Japanese fashion, the garden doesn’t appear to the viewer immediately. The simple unassuming entrance reveals nothing until you turn and enter into the quintessential “room with a view.” Here is a garden that asks nothing more of the viewer than to sit down and open your pores to the scene before you.

sugar egg

For me, viewing this garden is similar to the feeling I’d get as a child when looking into a snow scene in a glass ball , or peeping inside the magic world  hidden inside a fanciful sugar Easter egg.

snow globe

It was raining on my first visit here.  The sight and sounds of the rain falling on the pond were mesmerizing.  I could feel the earth breathing with me.

On my second visit, it was autumn, under a crystal blue sky.  The Japanese maples set the vista aflame with color, reflected brilliantly in the pond water.

fall 2 at rengenji fall at reen-ji

On my most recent visit, nature was not showing off, at least not at first glimpse. Now, the young maple leaves spread a chartreuse green swath across the garden.

tree and temple

Although beautiful, the garden didn’t have the same punch for me as it had on earlier visits. I felt mildly disappointed. Then, I was disappointed that I was disappointed. I sat with that disappointment and allowed myself to take in the garden as it was NOW.  I watched my disappointment gradually dissipate.

thinking reflections temple testure bridge

When I lit a stick of incense within the temple, a profound sense of calm had replaced my earlier unease.

buddha

ZIP-A-DE-DO0-DAH

This ikebana arrangement exemplifies the expression of spring.

Only a very few days, at a certain time of the year, in a certain kind of place, at a certain time of day, qualify for exalted Zip-a-dee-doo-dah status.  Yesterday was one of “those” days.

zippadeeLeaving the city of Kyoto for a break in the Let’s Play House routine, we drove (make that we were driven) on a  single lane road, through small villages, one and a half hours north of the city, into the mountains and back in time.  I’d made a reservation for an overnight stay at the highly recommended ryokan, Miyamasou. It is situated along a winding stream, a short distance from a 900 year old temple. When built, it housed Buddhist monks.

When guests arrive at a ryokan, they surrender themselves to the impeccable and attentive care of the staff.  The only decisions required concern the time to eat and the time to bathe.

Platform overlooking the stream as viewed from our room.
Platform overlooking the stream as viewed from our room.

IMG_3097

Miyamasou is renowned for its mountain based cuisine. This is not faddish, but a path that’s been followed in the mountains for millennia.  They’ve just made high art out of the presentation and preparation of the ingredients.  We were up to the task of eating and appreciating the exquisite food put before us.

Please note river shrimp.  Our first course.
Please note river shrimp. Our first course.
Tempura mountain veggies.
Tempura mountain veggies.

IMG_3086

Our beautiful server at dinner, in rather formal attire!
Our server at dinner, in rather formal attire!

I really did break into song in the morning of the first day in May.  The day and the setting were perfection.  Daffodils huddled together on the banks of the stream. The  earth seemed to explode with the urgency of new life. Violets, ferns and mosses vied for space at the edge of the pathways, birdsong filled the clear mountain air, and the rushing stream provided constant background music to our ears.

IMG_3164

Inspired by the loveliness of the day, and by books I’d been reading about courageous people deciding to walk ancient Japanese pilgrim routes , I took, what to most hikers would be, a “baby step.”

Before we paid the fee at entrance to the temple grounds, the wisened temple caretaker looked doubtful that my husband and I could do it. She tried to tell us several times how steep the climb was. Before we set off, she shouted, “Gambatte!”  which means good luck.  Walking sticks in hand, we slowly climbed up 430 vertiginous stone steps to the ancient wooden temple.  We descended with aching thighs and weak knees,  but otherwise intact!

Climbing to the temple
Climbing to the temple

Sorry, no photos are allowed of the temple.  It’s a simple wooden structure on stilts, poised near the top of the mountain we’d climbed.  Needless to say, my husband and I both felt quite pleased with ourselves once we’d made it intact to the bottom.

Returning to our ryokan, there was only time to say goodbye to our gracious hosts, before our taxi wound its way back to the city to resume life in our newly adopted city.

IMG_3172