Thirteen Reasons I’ll be Returning

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05/08/2013

Heart Warming and Belly Filling

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The hilly village of Ohara, in the northern precincts of Kyoto, is idyllic.  It’s one of the places that I must return to each time I come to Kyoto.  Its simple country farmhouses make a ring around a central area of fertile farmland growing rice and vegetables. At one time, this rural farm area grew most of the fruits and vegetables for the city of Kyoto.   Glimmering streams snake through the landscape.  Ancient temples watch over the proceedings of the ever changing lives of the mortals living below them.

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Several years ago, after arriving in Kyoto in early winter, I foolishly suggested we visit Ohara and take a walk.  A light rain was falling in Kyoto, but common sense should have told me it was not a great day for a walk in the country.

When we arrived in Ohara, it was snowing ,very cold and damp. A day my mother would have  described as “raw.” The walk quickly became an endurance test.  A friend we were with kindly suggested we stop at a nearby farmhouse that had a small sign in Japanese, indicating they served food.  What a refuge.  At the time, we were the only customers.

The large old farmhouse was owned by a young couple who had inherited the house from the wife’s parents.  She had an adorable infant strapped to her waist as she served us course after delicious course of food prepared by her husband in the adjacent kitchen.  The food is beautifully served on a wonderful assortment of antique and new ceramics.  We watched the snowfall as we happily sat behind large glass windows,consuming the heart warming food prepared for us.

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Steamed local mountain veggies and tofu, from the top and clockwise, daikon, tofu, carrots in sesame sause, spinach and burdock root with gingko nuts.

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On Sunday, we decided to search again for the farmhouse, neither of us certain  just where it was.  I managed to locate it, but when we walked in, the owner told us they were all booked.  I made my plea and they kindly sat us at a counter table in the kitchen.  We determined it had been about nine years since we’d first come.  They now have three daughters and share the work of serving lunch most days to about 20 lucky people.  The husband told us, when he wasn’t cooking, he was farming, on their small plot of land, directly across the small road.

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I was happy for them, although it was obvious to see how hard they both worked, she doing triple  duty as server and busgirl and dishwasher, her husband cooking for 20 people at a time, while growing the food in his spare time.  He grows organic rice too. Her parents look after their three daughters.

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The name of the restaurant is wappado.  Open only between noon and 3pm on certain days.

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Prepare to have your heart warmed and your belly filled.img_8359

 

 

JAPANESE SUMMER

Welcome Summer
Welcome Summer

Rainy season delights

The rainy season in Japan has just begun. Although the season brings its discomforts, it also marks the appearance of mounds of blossoming sky blue hydrangeas (ajisai) that replace the blue of the sky for a few damp and misty weeks.  They are one of my favorite flowers and can push me to tolerate uncomfortable degrees of wetness just to take in their beauty in some out of the way soaking wet garden.  The displays of hundreds and hundreds of these plants seen in many temple precincts are dreamy and extravagant in their abundance, shape and colors.  Think flamboyant masses of every shade of blue imaginable along with occasional splashes of  pink and white .

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The Japanese indulge seriously in seasonal celebration and have specific customs that accompany every time of the year. The images of hydrangeas appear in seasonal candies, in the design of everyday fabrics, on ceramics and on kimono and accessories.

Bouquets or single stems of hydrangea are found in the windows of traditional shops.  The flower is celebrated nationally for its rainy flowering period, then replaced by other symbols of the season, as the rainy season ends and the summer heat becomes more oppressive.

multi colored hydrangea

The exquisite craftsmanship of traditional Japanese sweets (wagashi)wagashi 1

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Japanese wind bells (Fuurin)

I became easily entranced with fuurin (Japanese wind chimes), another symbol of a Japanese summer. For hundreds of years, in the heat of the summer, they’re hung in the eaves or gardens of buildings to delicately announce the arrival of any passing breeze. Attached to most fuurin is a paper wind catcher that offers a prayer to the gods.

Just to show you how “coo coo for cocoa puffs” the Japanese can go with this kind of thing, I discovered that there is a very large market every year in July, just south of Tokyo, devoted only to the delights fuurin!  Can you imagine the sight and sound of 30,000 wind-bells made of either glass, ceramic or iron, gathered from all corners of Japan, displayed together?

It sounds like an irresistible fuurin-gasm.fuurin 3

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Hydrangea photo courtesy of photographer extraordinnaire, Robert Yellin

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THE GYPSY STILL IN MY SOUL, PART TWO.

MOVING ON FROM GEORGIA

Brutus:
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

I had to memorize these  lines in order to walk into English class in 10th grade .  I can still recite them verbatim. It might have been the most important thing I learned in high school.  Shakespeare’s words made it very clear that opportunity doesn’t knock twice and you can expect a steep penalty if you ignore opportunity when it presents itself.   I took those lines to heart and listened to Brutus.

After a decade living in Georgia, I urged my husband to take a position with a young company in CA. When the offer came through,I instantly knew this was just the kind of opportunity Brutus had in mind.  It seemed like a now or never proposition, if we were ever to move away.

CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME

Friends in Georgia asked us how we could move to a place that had earthquakes. That was mild compared to what our friends in the NorthEast had to say before we moved to Georgia!  It turned out, to my horror, that Georgia was smack in the middle of Tornado Alley. After living through a devastating and terrifying tornado, I decided you’re at risk for one catastrophe or another just about anywhere.

We moved to the relatively young town of Thousand Oaks, CA. in 1981.

In the early 80’s it was the land of endless Farrah Fawcett haircuts and butt-hugging dolphin shorts, ticky tacky suburban housing developments, large shopping malls and mega churches.  It was a pretty, but sterile and politically conservative town. Businesses had names like You are Hair, and Thanks a Latté.

People liked to say it was a good place to raise children. I guess that was because it was pretty, sterile and politically conservative.   It seemed to epitomize every cliché I’d ever read about Southern CA.  Within a year, my pre-adolescent smart-ass kids  took to calling it Thousand Jokes, CA.  I never came up with anything better.

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I reached my limit with this location during the first Gulf War. The knee jerk patriotism became intolerable.  Within hours of the initial US strikes on Iraq, our house was the only one in our neighborhood without a boisterous American flag.  My chest was one of the few not emblazoned with the stars and stripes. Time to move on.   The day we moved, I drove down the driveway of our Thousand Oaks home for the final time and felt nothing but relief.

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Our next stop was Santa Barbara, just up the California coast.  I’d been attracted to it for many years. It met all my criteria for an ideal place to live.

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It has ocean, mountains, and a university.  It’s not too large, but is within driving distance of a large city. It’s got a strong sense of place and a strong sense of community. It hasn’t disappointed me. It can get insular and small townish, but the positives more than make up for the negatives.  Each time I return after being away, I’m happy to be home.

I’m quite sure that I won’t be initiating any more major moves.  I’ve lost the desire or energy to start over someplace new.

That said, without fail, visits to Japan renew a child-like state of wonder, discovery and delight in learning.  It’s been that way since my first visit in 1983. I delight in the warmth and kindness of the people, the celebration of the seasons, the scrupulous attention to detail and the intrigue of living in a place where there is much that remains mysterious.

Wandering the lanes, the gardens, the temples and the shops, the lyrics of Gypsy in My Soul, still ring true, particularly in the phrase, “my heart has wings.

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TUNING OUT, OR, HOW I LEARNED THAT IGNORANCE MIGHT LEAD TO BLISS

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Can ignorance be bliss?  For the last several decades, I was a news junkie.  I prided myself in keeping up with the latest news, be it from NPR, The NY Times, PBS, The New Yorker, or any other progressive media outlet.

When in conversation, if people “got” my news references, I’d give them a positive ranking for being  informed.  If they looked blankly at me, or openly admitted that they didn’t follow the news, I would give them an automatic downgrade.

Now I am rethinking the role of ignorance as an essential self protective device for maintaining sanity in a crazy world.

During political campaigns decades ago, I could be counted on to call strangers while phone banking, to walk unknown neighborhoods and to write letters in support of causes and candidates I backed. During the 60′ and 70’s I’d eagerly join in demonstrations. I telephoned for Eugene McCarthy between breast feedings.

mccarthy200-6b384d4a0c2682cfa0e79a4529e90d3a8e26a70a-s700-c85  In the 1980’s I sat for hours, with supporting materials, at a table in front of the post office in order to engage uninterested people in understanding the importance of voting for the Nuclear Freeze.  I regularly gathered people together in my living room to talk about the urgency of living in a world Beyond War.  I was on a mission. Each day offered an opportunity to save the world from destruction. But, after several years of activism, I burned out.  Our collective efforts did help bring about change, but somehow the issues seemed simpler then. The fervor with which we worked was difficult to sustain.

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At some point, my penchant for political activism ebbed.

I continue to keep myself relatively well-informed, but no longer have the energy or desire to work for a specific cause.  Crisis Fatigue has set in. Climate change, refugees, Syria, gun control, Isis or Isil, droughts, the Mideast, mass shootings, idiots running for president, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, the Taliban, fracking, oil spills, bee declines, etc.etc.etc.; all my internal warning lights flash “OVERLOAD!”

It’s obvious that some crises are cynically hyped, if not openly manufactured, to drive listeners, voters  and sales.  After the selling of the first Iraq War, I began to feel loathing for most talking heads as well as many news anchors and politicians. By the beginning of the second Iraq War, my distaste was complete.  I’d lost my taste for most causes.

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Maybe, in the beginning,  it was ignorance that allowed me  to believe that I/we could continue to effect change in our complex world?

One of the joys of traveling to Japan is that I can shut out the drumbeat of crises more easily than I can at home.  I’ve found it pleasant to “tune out” for a while.  To my surprise, the world goes on, with or without me.  My semi-detached state of mind continues now , even after I’ve returned home.

Because of the language barrier I have in Japan, I cannot understand what their politicians or media talk about.

And, at least for now, I’m liking it!