Tag Archives: beauty

Sideman

I arrived at Denpasar just after midnight, tired but relaxed, knowing that someone would be there to pick me up. I went through the magic doors and there was a long line of little brown men holding pieces of paper with people’s names on them. Mine was not among them. I checked up and down the line a couple of times to make sure. The only contact information I had was the phone number of the hotel but I had no phone and no local currency. So I stopped walking and thought, “Well, this is a pickle.” But then friendly taxi man came over and asked where I was going. “Sideman, and someone is going to pick me up.” He said, “No, no. It’s much too late. They’re not coming.” I insisted that they would and got out my itinerary. Nice man that he was, he called the hotel, who said the driver would be right there. Turns out he had been driving all day and had fallen asleep in the van. No harm done, and I’m glad to know that I don’t panic easily.

After all of that, we rolled into the hotel around 3:00am and I was fairly bleary by then, but was greeted by a woman named Ayu who took my hand in both of hers and a wave of warmth and sincerity shot up my arm and directly into my heart. “Follow me,” she said. “I’ll show you to your room.” And this is where we went.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAAyu slipped off her sandals and padded across the terrace.
She pushed open a pair of ornately carved wooden doors and I saw this.

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And this.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAThe tiles were cool on my tired feet and there were flowers everywhere. I couldn’t find my towel for the longest time because it was disguised as a snail.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA The understated beauty, the simple elegance, the sense of fun all reached out to me. It’s hard to describe the way Bali fills up your senses. It’s not just the scents of lotus and jasmine flowers but also the constant burning of incense with an undertone of steamed rice. I see ranges of greens rising above the rice paddies, highlighted with bright flowers in tropical hues, and all the while there is the sound of running water.

In the morning, I sit on the terrace and soak up the atmosphere. The moss on the gently swaying trunks of coconut palms and papaya trees winks in the early morning sunshine under a clear blue sky adorned with the faintest brush strokes of wispy clouds. All around is an orchestra of crickets, birdsong, rooster crows, gekko chirps and flowing water, always the sound of flowing water. Just outside my room, a staircase of terraced rice paddies brimming with water and life makes its way down the slope. It begins to rain, the drops adding syncopation to the orchestra of sound, the concentric rings they make forming popcorn patterns on the surface of the water, always changing, each unique.

Despite the drought on other parts of the island, at that altitude the ever flowing water seeks lower climes, meandering from the heights through rice paddies, the myriad swimming pools and carved stone fountains, always flowing, always seeking, somehow seeming to know its destination.

The earth is sodden, so the many buildings that make up the hotel complex are connected by rutted stone and concrete walkways. One quickly learns to carry a flashlight and walk gingerly, especially in the dark. On the first night, I stumble on the way to dinner, scrape my elbow and bash my knee. The knee is all right, jut bruised, but for the rest of the trip I can’t put my weight on it. One of the women in my group notices me icing it down and asks what happened.

“I fell, that first night,” I said. “Didn’t you notice me doing very strange yoga?”

“Yes, I noticed,” she said. “I just thought you were doing really advanced poses.”

There is something almost mystical about doing yoga in those surroundings. I work my way into a pose then look up. The inrush of sights, sounds and scents fills me with both joy and a profound longing, as if I could somehow know everything that can be known, see the ageless connections among all living things and find peace, a peace that reaches from the bottoms of my feet through the top of my head and out into the infinite universe.

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Fuku-Kitty II

She’s here!

So far she’s hidden next to the fridge, on the floor behind the curtain, on the windowsill behind the curtain and on the windowsill behind the fridge, sneaky little bugger, but my word, she’s beautiful. I haven’t taken a picture yet because I don’t want to frighten her with the flash, but you can see hints of Abyssinian, tabby and calico in her. Plus she’s wearing mascara and brown eye liner and has Dana’s white tuxedo shirt and fingers. I am humbled, as I am before great art.

On the other hand, it hadn’t really dawned on me exactly what we’ve taken on. No doubt her parents were domestic, but their people are most likely gone, and Kitty was born feral. She’s only been an inside cat since March. She had already been adopted once but was returned; the people were older and couldn’t deal with her running around all night. For the time being, at least, we can keep her locked in the living room/kitchen where she can tear around all night if she wants and we won’t hear it. I’ve already forgiven her for whatever damage she causes.

Volunteer lady said again and again that we can return her if we can’t handle her, but I have already promised both myself and the universe to love her, and I feel as strongly about that as I do about never smoking again.

As Maria sings so beautifully in The Sound of Music, I have confidence in me. Let the games begin.

Date Number Three

I just can’t seem to leave her alone.

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But I finally figured out why I love her so much. Her pastry is like shortbread but lighter. I still can’t get ricotta, so have been using mascarpone, and this time cottage cheese—mascarpone was better. The tartness of the fruit, cheeseĀ  and lemon zest are perfectly balanced by the delicate sweetness of sugar and honey. To quote le pirate, being with her is like “having baby unicorns tickle your nose.”

There’s plenty of Fancy French Frou-Frou available here, but the pastry is usually somewhere between cardboard and concrete, the filling is sticky, tooth-fuzzing custard and the fruit has no flavor.

As is often the case in Japan, form is more important than content. It doesn’t really matter what’s in the box as long as the present is beautifully wrapped.

My imperfect tart, I love you as you are, uneven edges, disoriented fruit, warts and all.

A Snow Day

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.

From my kitchen window
From my kitchen window, 1:00

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.

The park next door
The park next door, 2:30

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.)

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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.