@ Narita

@ Narita, once again, after 8 nights in Japan on a trip that took me from Tokyo to Kyoto and back to Tokyo.  Not much between meeting people and taking notes and observing except for really delicious food, from eggs to noodles to broths to chicken to beef to pork.

Late last night, solo @ LAPIN, a subterranean bar in an alley in Ginza. Something out of a movie.  Originally from 1928, habituated by several famous writers, like Dazai, banned during the fascist era, reopened as a coffee salon during the American occupation when liquor was scarce or illegal, moved, reshaped, back to what it was supposed to have looked like nearly a century ago.

It was like being in a movie, from the ancient, doddering, serious staff to the idiosyncratic, outgoing guests, to the low ceilings to the small wooden stools facing the bar.

Now heading to the States.

Couldn’t decide between kaarage, gyu, or yakitori for airplane picnic so bought all three.

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“OK, Time to Fly!”

“OK, time to fly!” was a slogan of the state airline of Czechoslovakia back in the day, around 1981, when I made my second visit to Prague before the whole Soviet collapse.

Today in Tokyo, it’s time to fly once again, back to the States, returning to Battleship Amerika.  People here in Japan with whom I’ve spoken, friends I’ve known for well over a decade, nearly two, have pushed aside their usual reticence about shortcomings of the States they perceive.  Long conversations laced with fear and anger and sadness.

All this over delicious grilled beef or grilled chicken, fresh vegetables, eggs, soba, udon, and broths.

Returning soon.

Saturday Morning in Kyoto

The house I’m in is new, not open yet to the public, and it is in a small compound that belongs to a late nineteenth century mansion within which are numerous artifacts and art from various sources, including Zen temples shut down during the Meiji Restoration.

The house faces an enormous private garden of deciduous and pine trees, lined on one side by a canal and a narrow street, on the other side there is a busy, four lane city street.

I’ve been in Japan nearly a week.  Lots of meetings concerning writing and projects, each evening with friends, mostly old friends though some new, and great people watching day and night.

Long walks through the downtown area and also the Eastern hills.  Kyoto is one of my three favorite cities: Manageable scale, extraordinary mix of architecture, people reserved but pleasant, a wide river lined on one side by an elevated bank and little cafes.

I’ve been enjoying udon and soba, yakitori and beef, beautiful apples and persimmons, delicious young ginger.

I’ve read two novels by Mishima in the past few days, and the morbid fascination with decay and self-loathing make clear why he appealed to me in junior high school when I seem to have shared some of his doubts with similar intensity.  Now I can still appreciate the ferocity of the writing, his commitment to what he is writing.  He is more like a sculptor than a painter.  But I’m lost when his fantasies turn from reality rather than observe what is around us.

14 Hours Ahead or Behind

Not sure why jet lag this time around seems particularly brutal.  Not so much the disrupted cycles of sleep, moreso the waves of fatigue that happen at any time.

I arrived in Japan a couple of days ago for eight full days.  Tokyo, Kyoto, Tokyo.

The city–Tokyo–seems to be gaunt and celebratory, Christmas lights and decorations up, from big trees to snowmen wearing stovepipe hats.  Trees still bearing leaves and the light crystallized so that things are in stark relief and then vanishing.

Subways crowded, as usual, but delightfully silent and postures showing sleep or recognition of private pleasure barely concealed.

SEO is a wonderful yakitori place beneath Tokyo Station.  Maruzen has a great branch of its Ginza bookstore on the north side of the station that I hadn’t known about until yesterday.  But English language translated books by Japanese authors cost between $20-30, which complicated selection.  Dinner at a vegetarian place near University of Tokyo with a friend who teaches Agriculture there, and is retiring soon.  Late night snacks with another friend in the warrens of big office buildings in Marunouchi.

Morning today in Ginza, assuming no missiles are launched, then a train to Kyoto.

Holidays

It’s a few days until another Thanksgiving, and then a few weeks until Christmas, and then before you know it, it’s 2018.  You don’t need me to tell you that, I think you’ve got a handle on these things, and I mention it in passing just to get it down, just to get my head clear, perhaps, and it’s as if you are listening in.

The past month, I’ve had a flurry of publications about Seoul, Switzerland, and Japan, places I’ve been, a couple quite often.  Next week, I return to Tokyo and Kyoto for nine days of work, meetings, and what-not.

Speaking of Japan, I finished my book inspired by the boy left in the mountains near Hakodate on Hokkaido.  Now it’s with an agent, and my thoughts and prayers, who could be the person who could rep it, will rep it, and then find a home.  The style of the book owes a debt to Hideo Yokoyama, whose, “Six Four,” is a wonderful and strange novel about a police investigation as well as family and work in Japan.

And as long as we are mentioning family, this week a welcome inundation begins, and we’ll have ma pa tofu with shiitake mushrooms on Monday night, Red Snapper on Tuesday night, fondue made with Rolf Beeler cheeses on Wednesday night, and on Thursday, there’s this:

Curried lentil soup, two dry rubbed 12 pound turkeys from Pennsylvania with lots of butter under the skin, chestnut and cornbread stuffing (maybe one with Chinese sausages), Robuchon whipped potatoes, cranberry sauces, some greens with sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds. 450 for 20 minutes, then 250 for about three hours. Good Austrian reds.

And pies, lots of pies.

Luzern

Late arrival by train from Vals to this loveliest of Swiss cities, thanks to trade with Italy centuries ago that resulted in architecture and narrow streets reflecting Italian aesthetics more than Swiss.

We are in Wilden Mann, a favorite inn, by the Reuss, and though it’s only a very short stay, it feels like home since the city has many memories for me even from the time I was a boy of thirteen.

Luzern was the first place I went to with my family.  Then later I did a Landdienst in Root, a nearby village, about 10 km away.  There Herr Bucheli had me climb long, wooden, rickety ladders up forty feet to pick cherries, then clean horse stables, feed calves fresly mown grass, empty sewer tanks, etc.  Once or twice I hitch-hiked to Luzern.  Much later my wife and I traded homes with a city minister and stayed a month.

Now it’s vibrant, still, and as lovely as ever.

Last night we ate at Galliker, a favorite Stube away from the old city; 150 years old: Low ceilings, lots of good local wine, a great local crowd, Wiener-style schnitzel pounded flat.

VALS 7132 (CH)

It’s a gem, The Therme, designed by architect Peter Zumthor.  The gaunt stones and the play of light, the absences and suggestiveness, the emptiness.

Most of all, the nothingness.  So pleasing.

The rooms and outdoor areas are filled with water of varying temperatures, and all sorts of extremely subtle variations of shape and empty space.

It’s my third visit, and now with rooms designed by Tadeo Ando and Kengo Kuma, the feel is of a ryokan in view of alpine pastures.

Here in Graubunden, the village itself has numerous stone or wooden structures with slate roofs.  In the surrounding hills are herds of cows, goats, and sheep.

Today we walked on a long and familiar path, cows nearly nose to nose, and deep in a remote valley had a picnic of fresh rolls, local cheese, an apple, and Valser Wasser.

From the Balcony…

…it’s possible to see the Todi, to the SW, and beside it Selbsanft, after which this building is named.  On the East, the Alps are not as high, but tower still between 6,000-9,000 feet.

It’s quiet now, and will remain quiet, with the occasional hum of an electric transport vehicle, a crow, dogs, and maybe a helicopter or two bringing construction supplies to the village.

Yesterday it was another six hour walk above Braunwald, starting at Gumen, which we had reached by cable car, with old friends from Bern.  Soup in a cafe with cider and bread.  An alpine lake.

Prior, just the day before, we had started from the same place, this time heading West rather than East, and walked up to Rietstockli, a favorite hike, that takes one through valleys, past a pond, and ends with a view of two valleys.  At the top, Urnerboden, in canton Uri, can be seen.

Vals today, only 24 miles away, but a three and half hour trip by train as there are high mountains between us.  The Therme is there, designed by Peter Zumthor, whose bare walls of granite are suggestive.

The Autumn Updates

The boy in Hokkaido inspired a long work about…a boy in Hokkaido.  Why would parents leave a child in the mountains?  Why would the consequences of this decision be unknown or limited?

Then, too, work on the cognition behind longevity in Japan.  Why do people choose to delay gratification?  What delays are related to the planting of Western institutions on the Zen Buddhist hegemony that ended during the Meiji restoration?

Then, too, daily lessons, via the internet, to buttress my German.

All within the setting of two weeks of exploration: Very good dry rubbed pork ribs at Smoke Shop, an unpleasantly frozen chicken parm sub at Meridien Food Mart, first rate pork belly sliced thinly at H Mart, Icelandic lamb at Whole Foods, and really easy-to-follow Sichuan recipes from Fuchsia Dunlap.

Dinerstein’s book on postwar cool had a great intro, and the TLS review was intriguing, but the book was way overwritten, poorly or hardly edited, and seemed to be a throwback to the mumbo-jumbo of 1960’s existentialist canards.

Hamachi, tonight.

Summer of Noodles

I just put my three pairs of white jeans into the wash.  Summer is now over.

It was a summer of noodles for me.

I’m not one for eating sandwiches or salads in restaurants.  Each bite is the same as the bite before.

And while Boston now has many very good noodle joints, the salt and fat in the food served in these places makes them a treat rather than go-to.  On top of that, $14-17 a bowl?

So I learned how to make cold noodles at home.  Nothing tastes better in the summer.  The trick is to get great noodles.  There’s a company in California selling terrific noodles; these are about $4 for two servings, and the wonderful H Mart sells them.

I learned how to make cold, spicy noodles using Korean oil flavored with hot peppers.  I learned how to make cold sesame noodles using a Japanese recipe.  I learned how to make cold Sichuan style noodles with tofu, ginger, and shallots.

It was all flavorful, vegetarian, and relatively healthy.

The chief downside is the social isolation.  Few experiences in restaurants are more fun than slurping noodles with others slurping noodles.

Hunkered down in front of my computer and writing about longevity in Japan, and a boy lost in the mountains of Hokkaido?

Cold comfort.