I missed you, blog. I think about you all the time.
It's been a busy few months. My computer died twice and cats and friends passed away and we remodeled the bathroom and adopted new kittens. I will be back during the holiday break, having reorganized my photo libraries and had a moment to decompress.
In the meantime I give you the Fake It Til You Make It set that I played today while cooking and trying to get happy. It pretty much worked, with the double dose of polka really helping:
Web Edwards: Mele Kalikimaka
Jack Teagarden: Swing Low Sweet Spiritual
Dairyland Jubilee Commemorative Record
Brown Express: Pilares de Cristal
Arthur Lyman: Mele Kalikimaka
With two curries and a macaroni and cheese made, I think I'm ready to unlax before the last three workdays of the year.
After a poopy summer of losing Paws and losing the Hawaiian band and thinking that family vacation would kiss our boo-boos and having it cause them instead, we were ready to vacate. As if to kick us out the door, work was completely gnarly on my last day, as well.
Chili's! Take me away!
Yep. Got to the airport, and found margaritas and tabloids within feet of our gate.
I had never been to Chili's, but it was a welcome refuge from the lack of relaxation that preceded it. So was Virgin Atlantic's fine choice of late night programming: infomercials.
I had forgotten how much I like infomercials. When I worked nights at the restaurant, I would stay up late and try to find some fine programming. When that failed me, I'd watch infomercials. My favorites were the ones selling contraptions that converted your hair into fancy sculptures and the ones for Rio hair straightener. So mild that you can eat it! But it made people's hair fall out. On the plane I watched a very cheesy Ron Popiel knife infomercial, and an excellent infomercial about scalp and eyebrow paint.
The trip would have been unremarkable if we hadn't been flying in on the tail end of Hurricane Natalie. We started our descent and the captain came on to let us know 1) that the guy who descended right before us had some trouble, 2) that we were going to circle for a while but 3) we only had a half hour's worth of gas. I went back to sleep. You figure it out, Captain.
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, looks pleasant from what I saw of it. Some people got off the plane and took other transportation. I don't really know what happened, but eventually we got to JFK.
There are so many projects requiring the resources of the historical collection that my colleague and I are worn out.
Last week I hosted the founding archivist from our parent company. This was followed by what I'll call Parent Company Bowl, in which members of various divisions of our company answered trivia questions about the parent company. This was also judged by my guest.
That was Wednesday. Friday was 'Slagapaloo 2.
The ladies of Three Letters, who I should call Six Letters now because we changed our name, rocked mightily. One of my songs had completely inscrutable lyrics that defied me until the very last minute, but I whipped it together for the performance. People ate it up. We had a security detail who printed out badges declaring themselves our bodyguards. Guys mock rushed the stage to give them something to do. Compliments have poured in and the 'ohana (minus one) was right there smiling. Except mrguy, who was concentrating so hard that he had absolutely no expression on his face. He was amazed.
Then on Sunday I got to be amazed by him at his gig. Wouldn't you know that one of the registrars for the local incarnation of the forklift exhibition is a fan of his band?
Mrguy had two gigs this month at Kisses, a bar in The City. He reminded me after the second of them about some guys we'd met during the first...
The first gig was on the first, actually. The guys asked me to play uke and sing some harmonies on a song. As I stepped on the stage, I vaguely remember hearing someone yell "Nice hair!"
The sprout inspires all kinds. Anyway...
After the song was over, I went back to my barstool and was greeted by a young guy who asked me if I knew where my instrument came from. I started to tell him that I bought it in New York. He interrupted me to say that he wanted to know if I knew the *history* of the ukulele. I said yes, that it was inspired by the Cavaquino. No, he said, it was inspired by the Braguinha, from Portugal, and that he was from Braga and he wanted me to know that. I started to tell him what I knew about the three cabinetmakers from Portugal who sailed to Hawaii in the late 1800's, but he wasn't really interested in hearing about that and repeated "Braguinha. From Portugal. You should know".
Great. Enjoy the rest of the show.
It was a little harder than usual to make our escape that night. First I needed to listen to a pitch by the cross-eyed videographer who had been recording that evening. Then my new friend came outside. I'd already told mrguy about him. He started to tell mrguy the same thing about the ukulele and mrguy gave it his best polite reaction. Then another guy came out. His voice was like a Portuguese version of the Wild And Crazy Guys.
Guy 2: "Nice hair"
Guy 1: "She's married"
Guy 2, in drawling, deadpan Boris Badenoff voice: "Congradyoulations"
He was later heard asking why the streets were empty and where "the bitches" were.
After the sudden loss of Paws, we're still very tender. Eyes is stressed out and lonely, even though she has her brother for company. While we were on family vacation this past week, I started looking at cat rescue.
The local cat do-gooder calls herself "holistic". She has a beautiful little kitten that reminds me of Paws. I sent her a query and she sent me an application form that asked, among other things, my net income, how often I travel and where my cats sleep.
I sent her some info about us instead. She said ..."these cats must be allowed freedom to be in nature.." Instead of finding a home with loving owners this weekend, she'll chase bugs and get older and less adoptable. Sorry kitty.
I am weary of people's dogma. Dogma about the Hawaiian band, how a person should be on vacation and how domestic cats should live in the wilds of suburbia. Are personal rules more important than the overall goals of what you're doing?
We spent our last day in Japan with friends from 2008. We met them in Mitaka and went to a forklift factory, a forklift museum and an amazing dinner in Mitaka.
It was lovely, and due to the confidential nature of forklifts, no photos were allowed.
It was awesome.
I am exhausted, having just written these posts. It seems a little preposterous that we actually did that much stuff. I still have a few themed musings to share, and after that I hope to live strictly in the present.
I am, after all, actually on vacation at the moment!
This was our day to go to Kamakura. I didn't really want to go. I heard that it was all about the temples and I thought that the temples in Kyoto were mainly a bust. Mrguy really wanted to go, so we went.
It was lovely. The train dumped us out in the middle of nothing much, and we entered a complex of temples. I could not stop taking pictures.
the buildings were pretty and the plantings were pretty. We followed people who were standing in line to go into a building and took off our shoes with them as we had at Ryoanji. A monk kindly addressed us and helped us understand that this was Zen instruction, not a visitor site ;)
There was groovy stuff to see everywhere:
The setting below reminds me of a landscape from a Miyazaki film.
After leaving the temple we went to the next train stop in order to find some lunch. It was another one of those situations in which I was too hungry to decide what to do. Central Kamakura was as crowded as the temple had not been.
We wandered around the windy side streets of Kamakura and I saw a sign for pizza outside of a teensy storefront. We went in.
THIS was the best thing in town. The place was no wider than a railroad car, and definitely not as long. On one side of the room was a shallow bar with a few built-in stools. On the other side were a few booths. A woman in her early sixties greeted us. This was her place.
The other customer was an older gentleman at the bar who passed the time with her as he faced the door with his side to her. He reminded me a lot of Don Ho and other gentlemen from years past with leisure suits and matching shoes, slicked-back hair and a few gold-edged teeth. Clearly he put a lot into his grooming and seemed like a bit of a swinger. The place was too intimate for photo taking, so a few closeups is all that I got.
The pizza was just what it looked like. Pepperidge Farm puff pastry dough with a few spoonfuls of sauce, a sprinkling of cheese and a couple of olives or mushrooms. She made it in the toaster oven behind the bar and it took forever. Who cares? It was an amazing experience.
I don't think the decor had changed for thirty years, and she was playing CSNY and other American rock music from the 1970s. The only soft drinks they had were tonic and something else. I had a tonic. Can you see the bottle? It looks like new old stock. I felt like I'd fallen into one of my vintage Hawaii Five-0 episodes. I wanted to buy her business right then and there and retire to Kamakura with my honey.
What an adventure. Afterward we found local beers to bring back home to Tokyo and hot off the griddle sembei for me to eat. I really liked Kamakura.
On Friday we hustled back to Tokyo on the Shinkansen. When we got to the hotel we watched a little sumo. Then we ate at the sweet restaurant in Akasaka which was the site of our first meal in Tokyo together in 2008. A little shopping in Shinjuku and then to bed. No pictures of note were taken.
This was a banner day. We went to Ryoanji to see the rock garden that inspired our Okiie Hashimoto prints.
Some cute train action:
And then we walked up the hill toward Ryoanji and took off our shoes. Voila! We were looking at famous rocks with a million Japanese school children. They were everywhere. Turns out it was a popular time of year for students to take trips to historic sites. Was it ever!
Mrguy kept making faux grumpy guy jokes. "Shouldn't these kids be in school? I don't remember eating noodles at two in the afternoon with my buddies on a school day..."
Speaking of noodles, I had three kinds and they were great.
We went back to the Kyoto train station to see the Astro Boy Museum, which was super cute. We wanted to take a bus that circles town after that, but the line was fat with schoolkids. Surprisingly, there were no kids at the Astro Boy Museum, just us.
I was ready to call Kyoto a bust when mrguy got a second wind on temples and found us a good one, Chio-nin. It was restful, old, inspiring, and pretty much devoid of school children. Even thinking about this place lowers my blood pressure.
We went back to the hotel and then to the market one last time. These pickles looked tasty.
These items that look like plantains are actually bonito. They were dead cheap, and I really wanted one to take home to make my own bonito flakes.
Somebody gave these gourds a makeover:
We walked around the neighborhood of the hotel and tried to find someplace to eat. There were great looking places that only had one person in them -- too intimidating. Eventually we ended up in the basement of a hotel, where we found a crazy, raucous restaurant that catered to groups of businessmen. The host became our waiter, and we used our only food words to rustle up dinner. When a server brought us our edamame, she yelled "BEANS!!" as if she were The Chairman on Iron Chef America. Very silly.
We took our JR passes and booked it over to Osaka. We wanted to see some amazing stuff that we saw on No Reservations.
At the train station I was very excited to see and then taste Fanta "Moo Moo White". Akebono did a promotion for them this past year, and I hadn't seen it in the States or Taiwan. Now that I've had some, I don't ever need to taste it again. It tastes somewhat like carbonated Yakult, and I like to keep my fizz and my probiotics separate.
Train stations provide much visual stimulus. We weren't even to our destination yet and I kept finding fabulousness. Like this guy, the mascot of the city of Nara. He looks like a fabulous deity -- some incarnation of the Buddha. Nope. He's Sento-kun, a newish cobbled together mascot who is ticking a lot of people off.
More train riding:
One of my favorite things in Osaka was the Open Air Museum of Japanese Farm Houses. Twelve antique farm houses from different regions of Japan were relocated here, beginning in the 1960s. Each house is set in its own small landscape. Because each is made of wood and most have thatched roofs, a pail of water stands ready within.
Where possible, the houses are outfitted with period furniture. It was a misty, rainy day, and for that reason it is easier to imagine the period in which these buildings were in active use.
The thatched roof below was producing roof iris. I had never heard of such a thing. This is the view from a vintage tea house, and these bamboo benches were pretty fabulous.
From here we went to Osaka proper. Osaka is full of downright goodness. Check out the signage and wires.
This is Sammy's Ebisu. I'm so sad it closed.
This is across the street. It's Karl! Eating my favorite flavor of Karl, light salt.
Osaka is famous for its tako yaki (for you scandinavians, imagine octopus aebelskiver. everyone else imagine octopus donut holes with savory sauce). Who could resist the lure of a flaming baby with taro horns offering you a piping hot sixer of tako yaki?
Again, the lure of the flaming baby. Mrguy and I shared six and then went off in search of more.
As I mentioned, Osaka is chock full of visual stimulus.
We knew we needed more sustenance before venturing out of the neighborhood, so we had twelve more tako yaki at this place on the street. The photos below are to the street and to the back of the restaurant. The tako yaki were yummy.
One of our goals in Osaka was to find the original cat cafe. On the way to find it, I saw this sign and figured it was a cat cafe. Mrguy wasn't sure (what if it was something unsavory?) but if it was I wanted to see it anyway! We went up in the teensy two-person elevator and found the hippie cat cafe.
Here we are. Inside, for ten bucks you get a beverage and a room full of cats.
This is the traditional greeting. Multiple cats scamper over each other to be the first one to smell the feet of newcomers. I hadn't changed my socks from the day before so they got an extra treat. You find a spot to sit in, and then your beverages come and the cats start to ignore you.
There are cats in bowls.
This cat is in charge of the sink.
This is the view from our seat. My original greeter is in the center of this photo. A kitten sits near the front door. See the light blue hamper under the bookshelf? There is a cat asleep in that also.
What you can't get from these photos is the ambiance. A couple sat on a small sofa with a cat visiting with them on a table. The cat, a Maine Coon, was so vast that he lapped over the table. Another couple sat behind an Indian screen. They ignored the cats and read magazines the entire hour we were there.
On the sound system was the Nonesuch Explorer Series recording of the Ramayana Monkey Chant, followed by what, on vinyl, is side two: twenty minutes of gamelan. I have that record! Funny.
Mrguy wanted to take me to America Mura, so we went. I expected to find it touristy and awful, and it had some great stuff including a store called Drum & Bass. This place is crammed full of Reggae 45s from Jamaica, recorded in the 70s. Mrguy was just about cross-eyed with the abundance. I was disappointed that he didn't buy any vinyl, but he did buy an awesome compilation CD that he loves.
Seems impossible, but we did more stuff. We had heard about a brewery run by women called Minoh. A bar called Beer Belly sells Minoh, so we went there for some beer and another bite to eat. We ate in a hallway that was essentially a passageway between two rooms. For those who care, the Minoh Double IPA tasted a little like a Luden's cough drop. The weisen is very nice.
It's the anniversary of the untimely death of a co-worker and I make a point of thinking about where I am, what I'm doing and what I want to be doing.
August came early this year.
Last week, the band of three letters got one week's notice that our drummer was moving to Canada. Our only gig of the year is in four weeks.
On Monday night Red was "graduated" from the Hawaiian band. I couldn't imagine being in the band without her. I was time to resign. Not a difficult decision at all (and almost one made for me) but a painful one. I went to sleep in tears.
The next morning, Paws had an episode. When I took her to the vet they could not save her. I had to put her to sleep. Thank goodness for the band debacle. Gave us something else to think about.
On Wednesday, mrguy suggested that we have a graduation party in lieu of class. I went to the restaurant to resign in person, and then took my kleenex box to the pizza place and waited for our friends to show up. The four of us who have always talked of having a band but had never done anything about it will move on. Happily, we will be joined by dear friends.
And yet I'm beyond miserable. The combination of events is perhaps too much in a concentrated dose. I soothe myself with the thought that at least I'm getting it all of the bad things out of the way at once.
Next week I will be in the bosom of the family. Cheez-its, champagne. Balderdash. My vacation work is to finish my Japan blog and start writing arrangements for the new band.
Mrguy had sussed out a lovely tea house where you could get traditional-style tea in a modern setting. This is where we had breakfast.
I don't really recall what I ate, but it was beautiful and peaceful and there was a pretty garden outside the window and reproductions of mid-century designer furniture inside.
It left me purring like a cat. Had we turned around and gone back to the hotel, this would have been enough.
The teas came with specific instructions on how long to steep and what to do.
Upstairs was a shop and gallery with kimono and other things in vitrines. As if they were *expecting* an archivist to visit, they listed their target temperature and humidity and displayed their thermohygrometer and its readings prominantly.
After this we went to a museum of Kyoto crafts that was, in fact a museum of crafts. Skilled tradespeople (lacquerers, silver workers) worked at public areas within the museum. The materials and their results were lovely. Upstairs the silence was broken by politicians wearing sashes who stood on top of a van and shouting into microphones in the street below.
On to another museum.
This is the nondescript street where the Raku Museum resides. It is run by the family of the man who, in the 1500s, developed the raku firing process. His work and that of his descendants, is really lovely.
You need to wear slippers inside.
We also went to the Japanese Confectionary Museum. No english-language signage that I recall, but the exhibits were nice. They displayed not only examples of Japanese candies alongside the molds that made them, but they also displayed gorgeous hand-tinted recipe books from the 1800s. The museum was small and jewel-like.
About this time in the day I realized that I felt a little off-kilter in Kyoto. Bicyclists ride on the sidewalk everywhere, and the local college crowd seems to like to give tourists a scare. This sign is not only a warning, it's an eventuality!
The pedestrians got on a train and ended up at Kyoto Station and the Kyoto Tower.
It's a much-maligned piece of architecture, which means that we like it. And its noodle shop.
After another stop at Nishiki Market, we were super super hot. I had a hankering for a gin and tonic to cool off, and it turns out that our hotel's Libary Bar makes one of the best gin and tonics I've ever had in my life. Check out the frosty copper mugs!