College for Women 60 Years Ago
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.
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!
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.
Each year of my life I rediscover Spring.
The insane energy of it.
The intoxicating scent of it.
The seductive beauty of it.
The wonder and exuberance of it.
Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems. Rainer Maria Rilke
Each year, Spring becomes my favorite season for as long as its promise lasts.
Before its flowers fade.
Before its green changes from brilliant to subdued.
Before its birds have found their mates.
Before the scent of orange blossoms vanishes.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last
For more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,
is that, once you’ve been there,
you’re there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?
Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then––open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.
Now, each Spring may be my last, but hasn’t that always been true? Would we know spring without winter? Can we know life without death?
And all our world is dew…so dear,
So fresh, so fleeting”
― Kobayashi Issa
In a few short weeks, I’ll travel to Kyoto again. If I’m lucky, my trip will be timed with cherry blossom season (sakura); perhaps, the most extravagant celebration of spring on this earth, but one, like life, that is fleeting and unpredictable.
“Soaring in white clouds, The cherry trees are in full bloom, Every branch bending with loaded blossoms. But the wind is ceaseless as the peak is lofty, And day after day falls the spring rain; The flowers have scattered from the upper sprays. May the blossoms on the lower branches neither fall nor lose their beauty, Till you, who journey, grass for pillow, Come home again !” Mushimaro, 8th Century
“After Halloween it’s a downhill slide to the holidays.” I’ve said that for years. Now, I can add, after turning 70, it’s a downhill slide to 75. These days, I’ve become more preoccupied with the 3/4 century mark.
This decade of my life is just going too damn fast. I’m now making some accomodations for my shortness of breath from copd, and it’s making me feel old. (older?) I stopped going to zumba several months ago because I got too short winded. Excercise, some days, is simply not an option. Having been very physical all my life, I don’t like it. How to accept the new reality and not give up too much? I’m working on that one. My guess is that will be an increasing challenge in the coming years.
There’s nothing new to the observation that time seems to speed up the older you get. What’s changed for me, is that time seems to be in damn overdrive these days. Someone’s put the pedal to the metal. I want to scream at the driver to slow down.
Speed can be exhilarating, but it also can be scary because of feeling out-of-control.
I’m familiar with the old shibboleth that advancing age allows us to value each day more. That’s obvious, but hardly satisfying.
I recently read that some wise person, or person who thought they were wise, would start each day by asking himself, “How would I live this day if I knew it were my last?” This produces the same mind stop as the Buddhist monk greeting, “Remember you’re dying.” It separates the wheat from the chaff, but is a little too confrontational for my taste. Maybe this concept needs to be experienced gingerly and gently, like entering an unfamiliar dark room.
I’ve always considered myself a realist. I like to think I look clearly at what’s so. Why go through life in denial? Sooner or later, one should confront the Truth, or it will bite your not so little butt. But then, maybe there’s something to be said for Denial.
I decided at 69 that I would not hide the fact that I was turning 70. I really felt no different physically. Now at 74, I’m a little taken back that I really have begun to feel “older.” Maybe I’m finally transitioning from prolonged middle age?
It doesn’t seem productive to remember the days when everything physical came easily. On the other hand, I know very well that turning 75 is a privilege not afforded to many, and I’ve got a lot to be grateful for. Coming to terms with the changes that accompany aging seems to be my next challenge. Just maybe, if I’m successful and lucky, it will be the most gratifying.
The Jewish New Year is bittersweet for me because it requires looking over my shoulder; in particular, it means missing my parents. My husband might be described as memory neutral when it comes to the religious impact of his childhood. Therefore, any acknowledgement of the holiday, be it going to services, eating a special dinner, etc. must be initiated by me. I’ve gotten lazy over the years and no longer care whether I attend services or not. This admission brings Jewish guilt.
The Jewish New Year brings back memories of my childhood and time of year that was of great importance to my mother. She was not a particularly religiously observant person, but she fervently held on to the High Holidays and expected her children to follow suit without question. This meant going to religious services at our conservative synagogue for both the first and second mornings of Rosh Hashonah, an inevitably dull and tedious affair for me.
Because the synagogue wasn’t large, if there was a crowd of congregants, children had their own boring services in the ugly basement of the temple building. Teenagers could move out of the basement and into the sanctuary.
At least in the sanctuary of the synagogue, I was able to stare at the stained glass windows to relieve the tedium of a service in a language I could read but could not understand. I did enjoy the traditional music and would come to life when they were sung because I knew the lovely old melodies and had memorized the Hebrew words. Continue reading “The Jewish New Year Demise of the Fabulous Red Petticoat”