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Carlos is intertwined with my love of the pleasures of Japan. We met there while we were both in the Navy, meeting the first time at work in the windowless, cold bunker that was our command’s building. We were under fluorescent lights in the drab beige uniforms of Navy office work, but he was vivid and funny and sexy. I found myself flirting helplessly. And soon we were off on adventures, Japan becoming the backdrop of our passionate affair, with a definite, looming ending date: I would be transferred to Hawaii in nine months.
Mono no aware is the Japanese concept for being sensitive to the sadness and beauty of fleeting moments. Everything we did–eat sushi, drink sake, visit temples, make love, read aloud from “The Confederacy of Dunces”–was tinged with my feeling of the poignancy of the impending end. For what relationship could survive my move to Hawaii, the inevitable fizzle of the long-distance romance?
So, Tokyo, September 1992, we are saying goodbye before I board the bus for Narita airport; I am crying, cradling this pain of the end, and he says, “Don’t cry, I’ll see you in 6 months.” It hadn’t occurred to me that this could continue, that he was already planning the future.
The future was expensive phone calls and long letters in the time before e-mail, a civil ceremony in Honolulu on October 7, 1993, and, when my four years of service were up, married life together–finally!–in San Diego in August 1994.
After all that mono no aware, the together time sped up and propelled us. San Diego, Washington, D.C., Naples, Italy, back to San Diego, Montgomery, Alabama, London, Yokosuka, and finally back to the D.C. area. Besides living in the U.K., Japan, and Italy, we vacationed in Bali, Vietnam, France, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Ireland, Spain, Belgium, Mexico, Bolivia, and Puerto Rico. He deployed many, many times for six months, three months, eight months. Each time it hurt and then it stopped. Perhaps I learned patience, perhaps we were just stubborn and persistent.
We bought our first house. We renovated a bathroom, we gardened and hosted dinner parties. He retired from the Navy. We adopted two rescue dogs. We got fatter and older. We fought, we made up, we got drunk–often. And we laughed.
We laugh and laugh. We endlessly quote movies: “Stripes,” “Bull Durham,” “Caddyshack,” “The Godfather,” “Cool Hand Luke.” When we started dating, he read to me National Lampoon’s version of Che Guevara’s Bolivian Diaries.
Noviembre 13. [...] Even I found myself forcing down a bottle of Coca-Cola, the vile mate of yanqui imperialists, Although the foul liquid made me gag, I noticed an odd aftertaste that I could not dispel. A half hour later I found myself having another, and yet another. This is foolish counterrevolutionary weakness on my part, and I will steel myself against it. But I suppose it can’t hurt to kill the six-pack.
Enero 17. No Cokes for three days. My hands are shaky and my knees are weak. I am itching like a man on fuzzy tree. Delirious. I cannot go on unless I have another. Soon. A peasant in the village will deal with me–one rifle, one six-pack.
Enero 20. [...] A company of Bolivian infantry opened fire, chopping Pombo and his men into paella. [...] Marcos himself barely escaped with his life, shielding his body with a Coca-Cola cooler.
Summer 1992: I am laughing with delight as he reads to me. And then twenty years flash and burn. And I am here, with puppies and husband. And I am still laughing.
Listening to Ann Cole. Growing Hakurei turnips and tatsoi. Not sure where any of this is going.
In the meantime, to help the Tohoku region of Japan (or just to get some fine recipes), please go buy a copy of Elizabeth Andoh’s Kibō.
In Tokyo on the evening of February 15, I was sitting cross-legged in the private dining room of Takara, a modern izakaya, with John Gauntner and his students taking the 2011 Advanced Sake Professional Course. At the table with us was John’s own sake sensei, Haruo Matsuzaki. The night felt auspicious. We toasted, shouting, “kampai!” Mori-san, the maitre d’, organized the perfect service of numerous courses of food matched to the seven sakes John had chosen for the evening. After we ate and drank ourselves into a happy flushed stupor, people began crawling like babies over cushions on the wood floor to talk to others. The very long table was covered with tall 1.8 liter bottles of sake, many katakuchi (sake flasks with open tops), innumerable o-choko (small sake cups), and the plates from dinner. The conversation was animated, enthusiastic, and a bit drunken. Delight and déjà vu: back in 2005 through 2008 when I lived in Japan, Takara had been the site of nine memorable John Gauntner dinners that had solidified my interest in sake.
One of the sakes on February 15th was Sharaku 冩楽 junmai ginjo from Fukushima, a rich, tingly, and delicious pure rice sake named after the 18th-century ukiyo-e master whose identity is a mystery. The neck of the bottle had a label that read, “Pure Love Brew,” a pun on the word jun for “pure” [100%] rice sake, with a mixed meaning of something like “love of pure rice sake brewing” and “brewed with pure love.” I was so taken with the phrase that I pledged in a slurred voice that I would pursue a jun life, making it delicious and full of love.
And that is where I stopped writing when I heard the news of the earthquake/tsunami/radiation crisis in Japan. This post was going to be about my love of sake and sake people: my sake sensei, John Gauntner, and John’s coordinator in the sake courses and sake tours (sake expert in her own right), Etsuko Nakamura. I wanted to share photos of the toji (master brewers) and owners of the breweries we visited and the two sake experts that shared their knowledge with us in the class, Shunsuke Kohiyama, and Matsuzaki-san.
After much thought I think that my impulse to highlight the lives of individuals remains the best way we can relate to tragedy. Waves crashing over entire towns can too easily be abstracted in one’s mind as a trailer for a movie about world destruction. But what is lost is moments and memories we can grasp one person, one moment at a time. This is all I can offer today: names and faces of individuals in Japan, some of whom I know are safe, some I hope are. I offer my broken heart with pure love for the the people who died, the people who will suffer, and all that will be lost.
Sunday outing with a friend who speaks Japanese, with whom of course I rarely converse in Japanese. We have resolved to do better…sometime. First we have lunch at Mitsitam Café at the National Museum of the American Indian. I quite enjoy a cup of lamb and quinoa soup, a roasted squash side, and a Navajo fry bread. Then we’re off to a lecture by Andrew Maske at the Freer Gallery, “Tracing Tea Bowls: Elite Ceramics in Edo Period Japan,” including the development of Takatori ware. We pause on the way out to ogle the curvy 10th Century Indian bronzes.
At the entrance to the L’Enfant Plaza metro station, we see a large crowd of college-age kids, a Fox News cameraman, and a few photographers with tricked-out equipment. We have no idea why the kids are gathering, but from their voices we feel their exuberant titillation. Always a good sign. Nothing grabs my attention like young, (reasonably) good-looking people skipping along excitedly saying: “Oh my Gawd, look at all the people! When do we do it?”
Yellow line heading south, fairly crowded train, people with suitcases headed to the airport, a normal assortment of locals and tourists, except that as soon as the doors closed most people on the train pulled off shoes, unbuttoned and stripped off their pants. We saw lots of costume-ish flannel boxers paired with striped socks. I respected one guy whose worn, gray, cotton boxer briefs indicated he had not indulged in much self-conscious attire planning. A young woman wore a snug pair of panties printed with V-shaped text:
I was weighing my options for next year (one should heed mother’s advice to always wear presentable underwear), when it occurred to me that the pantless riders were dressed more respectably and were acting more politely than many of the “IT’S NOT THIS STOP! WE HAVE THREE MORE TO GO! GO SIT WITH YOUR FATHER!” August-sweaty tourists who ride the metro every summer.
Here’s to scenes of chaos and joy in public places. And underwear.
QUESTION: Has Madam been silenced by an evil cartel of Tea Party enthusiasts and vegetarians? –WL
ANSWER: At some point during the hot summer here in D.C. the sake ran out; things looked bleak. Time passed. After a short vacation in Maine, Madam came home to her local bar, was offered a Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, and she realized it was already autumn. She has a story or two to tell…