There’s something going on in the balance of the celestial energy and it’s having a perverse effect on me. I think it began in June when Twitchy arrived. I’ve lived with cats on and off for most of my life, but had never taken on a feral one. Neither of us had any idea what we were getting ourselves into. People who have recently quit smoking should not be expected to have this amount of patience, but six months later, we’ve come a long way. I have very few scratches on my hands and arms, she hasn’t peed in the bed in ages, and when she’s in the mood, she’s almost aggressively cuddly. This is GOOD.
Last week, Karlina came to visit. We’ve known each other for about fifteen years but had never met, I had never even heard her voice. She was my main contact at Sesame Workshop when I was liaison between New York and NHK. As she put it, she inherited me when Veronica (who it turns out is NOT Jewish) got promoted and we were in nearly daily contact by email. She’s been going to Cambodia, where she does good things, now and then for the past ten years and decided to drop by on the way home. We had a grand time, as I knew we would. This is GOOD.
I’ve also started going to the theater again. I love the theater but had been badly disappointed and painfully overcharged a few times in recent years so pretty much gave up. I knew there was English language community theater, but assumed it was a bunch of ex-pat housewives with zero talent and too much time on their hands. I was wrong. There are some truly gifted actors out there doing it simply for the love of the art and I’ve been lucky to see a good bit of it in the past year. Pictured above is the lovely and talented Rachel Walzer who recently appeared in God of Carnage. I’ve had the pleasure of directing her in narrations but had never seen her perform live. She was GOOD.
A friend and I had a discussion about whether there is energy because there is life or there is life because there is energy. I’m a supporter of the former; I believe energy is created when life begins. My friend believes energy continues when life no longer exists. I’m starting to think maybe he’s right, but not in a reincarnation sort of sense. Maybe when life is gone, its energy goes someplace else. Maybe it does create new life. That’s possible, but maybe it does something else. It might become an idea or inspire someone to do something great. Maybe it makes the bread rise or the rain fall or the flowers bloom or the sun set. Or maybe it inspires just the right amount of empathy and kindness at just the right time to make a difference in someone’s life. That would be GREAT.
It’s true I have been dragging myself around, knuckles and jaw scraping the floor, dust bunnies under my fingernails and between my teeth. And then I came across this…
…and it shook my world, or at least knocked me part of the way out of my coma.
The picture is the MGM boys recording Leo’s voice. The more I thought about it, the more it gave me perspective. I spend a LOT of time in studios watching people pour their voices into microphones, but never once has there been a lion on the other side of the glass. And look at him, so elegant and poised, mane brushed, teeth polished, right forepaw turned slightly outward in a pose worthy of GQ.
I started to wonder, would you say Leo was narrating or voice acting? He wasn’t saying any actual words, at least not English ones, so I guess you’d say voice acting. But on the other hand, he was speaking fluent Lionese, so maybe it counts as narrating. I don’t know that much about lion vocabulary, so I couldn’t vouch for what he might be saying.
Shimajiro speaks Japanese and English but I couldn’t vouch for his Tigerese.
And thinking about Shimajiro reminded me of a day we were filming in a zoo. We were by the lion enclosure, where a whole pride of females were wandering back and forth under some trees. I heard a low rumbling sound and thought it was odd because we were nowhere near a highway or railway line. Then then I realized the lions were purring.
How many people get to say they’ve heard lions purring? And how many people get to film in a zoo? And how many people are friends with Shimajiro? And how many people get to hang out with narrators and voice actors? How many people get to be long term foreign residents of a city as much fun as Tokyo?
So instead of ‘down’, I will focus on ‘up’. I will scrape my knuckles and jaw off the floor, dust them off and smile. I will hold my head up like my friend Leo. I will look up at the sky and the stars and the birds and the butterflies and all the other pretty things that go flitting by. If work people decide they don’t want to treat me decently, I will tell them to go eat worms. (So there!) I will try not to focus on the things that are making me sad because there is nothing I can do about them.
I am told that my guardian angel spent a very pleasant Friday evening sipping wine with Aunt Gerri and is now ready to return to her duties looking after me. This is good. And ten hours of sleep didn’t do any harm, either. Purr.
As of today, it’s seven full months since I’ve had a puff on a cigarette and I’ve had a few thoughts on that matter.
Thought #1: I wonder if the fact that we are told that quitters are losers and instructed, “Don’t be a quitter” has anything to do with why it’s so hard to quit smoking. I kinda doubt it.
Thought #2: There was an ad for cigarettes included with the newspaper the other day. It was printed on fancy paper and looked expensive. The funny thing is I don’t think we’ve ever gotten an ad from a tobacco company with the newspaper. I wonder if they’ve been forced to advertise because our quit is putting them out of business. I kinda doubt that, too, but it would be nice all the same.
Thought #3: For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been having smoking dreams. Apparently this is common. Usually, I don’t actually smoke, but smoking is involved. This morning I dreamed that I was talking to some people and one said casually, “Oh, you’ve started smoking again.” I looked down at my hand and there was a burning cigarette between my fingers. I had no idea where it had come from. I tossed it away, appalled, and then frantically searched my pockets and purse but couldn’t find a clue. I think maybe my conscious mind has accepted me as a non-smoker but the Nicodemon is still pulling his evil tricks in my unconscious mind. “Old habits die hard” has never seemed so true.
Thought #4: We passed a No Smoking sign in the park today in a place where there never used to be one. I wondered when I would stop noticing things like that.
Thought #5: Seven months seems much more significant to me than six did. According to my quit smoking forum, only 7% of quitters make it a full year, but the statistics improve greatly after that. So maybe seven matters more than six because six was only half way. I’m a glass half full kind of person, but a year seemed such a long time, and now it doesn’t anymore. We’ve reached the crest of the mountain and now we can make our way down the other side, our baggage lighter, our heads clearer, a feeling of accomplishment swelling in our chests.
To celebrate this momentous occasion, The Twitch wandered onto my lap this morning for the first time and then let me pet her all over, but only with my right hand. When I tried to touch her with my left, she bit me.
“Have you got any plans for tomorrow?”
“I want to DO something. I worked so hard last month—we both did—and next week will be crazy busy again, but I’ve got this week off and I want to DO something.” Normally when the weather is good and neither of us has to work, we take a long walk around the neighborhood, which is both good for us and free, but I wanted to DO something.
“I don’t know. A museum or something, something we haven’t done before. Let me go see what I can find on the interwebs.”
What I found was the Edo-Tokyo Open-air Architectural Museum. According to their website, “Since the Edo period, Tokyo has lost many valuable historical buildings because of fires, floods, earthquakes and warfare. Today, the city’s valuable cultural heritage is still being eroded due to social and economic changes.” That’s true enough. Just the other day, we were on one of our epic walks and came across this:
See the shape of the supporting beam just under the roof? Gorgeous. Many old Japanese farm houses feature that type of construction. I was surprised to see it in a city house and saddened to see that it was being deconstructed, which made the open air museum sound that much more appealing. I had never even heard of it, for one thing, and it was situated in a vast park I had also never heard of. Apparently, Koganei Park is the second largest park in the metropolitan area and has been enjoyed by the public since 1954. The only one bigger is Kasai Rinkai Park, which is an upstart having only opened in 1989, but it does have views of both the sea and Disneyland, and one of those oversized Ferris Wheels, and an aquarium with a pretty impressive tuna tank. OK. I take back the upstart comment. They’re both pretty cool.
I’m a big fan of both parks and architecture, so off we went. It took four trains and a bus to get there, but it was worth it. The park is truly vast:
The bright green bit is the museum, the rest is park, and the museum itself is 17 acres, so that gives you some idea of how big it is. The park also has nearly 2000 cherry trees. The day was one of those rare springtime gifts from nature, clear and sunny, warm but not too warm. Sakura viewing season was nearly over, but there was just enough of a breeze to send the petals swirling and fluttering toward the earth, a sight that always makes me want to clap my hands and dance around like a little girl.
The museum itself was a collection of old houses from different parts of Tokyo that the metropolitan government deemed worthy of relocation, preservation, and exhibition to the public. It was also a little overwhelming. I was not expecting such a concentration of elegance and beauty. Maybe it was the perfect weather, or the joy of not having to work, but it seemed like it was impossible to take a bad picture. You could go inside all the buildings and wander around the rooms, losing yourself in the awareness of past lives and the waves of change Japan has experienced over time.
The west part of the museum featured the oldest houses, thatch roofed wooden farm houses, lovely to look at but hell to live in. They’re cold, dark and drafty and there’s nothing but sliding paper doors to divide the rooms, so the occupants had little to no privacy. Plus, I know from visiting the Nihon Minkaen (Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum, another very cool place) that the smell of thatch in the heat of summer will make you retch. Still, the craftsmanship alone makes these buildings museum-worthy.
Sometimes we would turn a corner and suddenly be faced with a world of such exquisite beauty that it couldn’t possibly exist.
And then there was all of this.
As you move toward the east, the houses are newer, and that’s where the astonishment sets in. The Japanese are truly adept at absorbing and adapting foreign things. An otherwise thoroughly western style room with elegant parquet floors might feature tiny-paned windows echoing the shoji paper window screens of earlier design.
One house had an A frame design that reeked of Frank Lloyd Wright, if the man himself had been Japanese. The little yellow house strongly reminded me of Miss Nancy’s house, except for the tiled roof. (She was my grandfather’s southern belle girlfriend from North Middleton, Kentucky.)
I think that’s what inspired such astonishment. Growing up, the one thing my parents had in common was a love of old buildings and antiques. On family vacations, we spent a lot of time visiting old houses and historical museums, so these buildings felt sort of like old friends, except for the nuanced and delightfully unexpected differences in culture and tradition. Almost all new houses are built in Western style these days, including all of the five (5!) being built around my house right now, but it’s rare to find old Western style Japanese houses.
The east part of the museum is a somewhat Disneylandesque collection of shops and other businesses, mostly from the 1920’s but some were older.
My grannyphone pedometer says we walked 16,659 steps, 10.8km, that day. Needless to say, our feet were tired, but our eyes and hearts were full of images that will stick with us, and getting away from the familiar always jump-starts my joie de vivre. It was a pink petal paradise, with sakura ice cream providing the final, perfect tweak.
Having nothing to do today and plenty of time to do it, I decided to have a cooking adventure and try Sam’s Peach Apricot Ginger Clafoutis. Clafoutis is something I’d heard of but never eaten and Sam has a way of writing recipes that always makes me feel all warm and squishy. Plus, this one is based on Julia Child’s, so I felt like I was in good hands.
Besides, if I screwed it up, how would I know the difference?
Unfortunately, though, Sam lives in the Southern hemisphere, so her seasonals are not mine. My peaches were canned, my apricots dried. I didn’t even try to find vanilla beans. I hope the gods of culinary heaven will forgive me.
Armed with my lovely new glass baking dish, which I had christened with lasagna a few days ago, I set to work. And it came out pretty good.
The addition of grated ginger is pure genius. It gives a bit of a kick to what would otherwise be, really, a pancake with fruit in it.
So now I know what clafoutis tastes like.
And I learned something else. According to Wiki, since this recipe is made with fruit other than cherries, it’s a flaugnarde. But they’re equally difficult both to spell and to pronounce, so let’s not split hairs…or couper les cheveux en quatre (why four?)…or スプリットの毛 (OK, that’s just nonsense).
We’re having a very heavy snowfall today. This is unusual for Tokyo. In all the years I’ve been here, I’ve only seen a few this heavy. This morning’s rain morphed into snow around 12:00.
Here I was, all snug and warm in my turtleneck/sweatshirt/fleece jacket/corduroy granny pants/fuzzy socks, in front of the kerosene heater, with a nice cup of hot coffee, thinking how lovely and convenient it is that today is a national holiday (Happy Coming of Age Day!), when the child inside woke up and started to yell.
“You must go outside! Right now! You can’t miss this! Go! NOW!”
When that child was young, a thousand lifetimes ago, she lived on a farm on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. Snow days (school cancellation) were common and exciting. Playing in snow was a big part of growing up—snowmen, snow angels, snowball battles. A wonderful winter treat was boiling maple syrup until it thickened then pouring it over fresh snow to make taffy. Getting dressed to go out only deepened the anticipation—long underwear, thick socks, snow pants, sweater, coat, scarf, hat, mittens, boots—all had to be piled on until the child looked like a padded Gingerbread Man.
There is something magical about snow, and Tokyo snow is particularly wonderful, partly because it’s so rare, but also because it’s thick, soft, wet and fluffy.
Rochi is from Nagasaki so knows nothing about snow. He put on a pair of canvas sneakers and grabbed an umbrella. I insisted on digging out my snow boots and Cookie Monster hat as well as his hiking boots. (There is no point in arguing about umbrellas with someone who is both Japanese and stubborn.)
Alas, it’s 5:00 and the adventure is nearly over. We’ve morphed back into rain. Great thundering lumps of melting snow are hurtling themselves off the neighbor’s roofs. By morning, this may all be a memory, fleeting like sakura, an unparalleled beauty for the brief time it lasts.