October 2005 Archives

Masks and Pumpkins

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Noh performer in mask during Okina, a ritualised Okinawan form of Noh. (photo by Tod, the steady-handed)

Tonight we attended a performance of Noh plays in Shinjuku Gyoen. It was my first Noh experience and although it was a beautiful specta, even the comedic play was way over my head.

Here are two recordings from Okina, the first play. Neither is of the performer pictured above.

play mp3Okina Noh 2'13" MP3 (2 MB)

play mp3Okina Noh (2) 0'56" MP3 (884 KB)

By the intermission, we were chilled to the bone so we left the crowd of 4000 people for the warmth of dinner indoors. A shame, because the only play I knew the plot of was the one after intermission.

After dinner, we stopped to have some Pumpkin Milk. It seemed an appropriate beverage for the day. More importantly, it claims to erase irritableness and I needed it. Not sure if it worked.

Pants Thief, follow-up

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You may recall my September 26th report that someone was selling my Thai pants pattern on eBay. I contacted the seller, but never heard a word from her. I ratted her out to eBay and got a reply less than a month later:

We received your Notice of Claimed Infringement and have removed the identified listings. You can now search our site to look for potentially infringing items and report these to us.

Then they go on to enumerate the several ways I can report future transgressions.

Thank you eBay.

Altered States

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creative perspectivesIs your creativity enhanced, influenced or improved by drugs or alcohol? Certainly in the history of creative geniuses, there are many tales of drunken brilliance and drug-induced visionary work.

Maybe in some cases, chemicals bring creativity. But how many of us try to induce a creative frame of mind with a little wine (or more than a little) and the drug of the week? Pleasant as it may be, it doesn'tbring on the super-genius that we dream of.

Personally, I find I get too absorbed in my altered-state plans and ideas to record them, then inevitably I fall asleep and when I wake up, the great light of creativity has been snuffed by a headache and fuzzy teeth.

Better for me to create with a clear head and my own, unaltered, vision.

Japanese fish stew

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recipe thursdayYou've been practicing cutting carrots and mushrooms according to last week's video, right? Well, now you'll get to use them. This nabemon is a one-dish meal. I usually incorporate Japanese seasonal items that you might not be able to get, so I've listed substitutes in the ingredients. If you have dashi, that makes better broth than water with bullion, but the last time I made it, I had run out of dashi-makings.

Feel free to vary the quantities, experiment with different fishes, add in some scallops or other vegetables. This is a flexible dish and everyone makes it a little bit differently.

Japanese Fish Stew
serves 4

4 shiitake mushrooms, decoratively cut
1/2 large carrot, cut into flowers
1 bunch chrysanthemum leaves (or other bitter green), cut into 10 cm lengths
1 long onion (or small leek). cut into 5 cm slices on the diagonal
6 cm lotus root, sliced into thin rounds
1 block firm tofu, cut into cubes
300-400 grams fish filets (salmon, whitefish, etc), cut into bite sized pieces
4 large shrimp, peeled
dash olive oil

broth
300-400 cc hot water
1 bullion cube with MSG
3 Tblsp soy sauce
2 Tblsp yuzu juice (or lemon juice)
1 1/2 tsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp mirin (or a good pinch of sugar)

Mix together the broth ingredients. In a large ceramic pot, heat the olive oil. Sautee the onion briefly, then toss in the other vegetables (except greens) and add broth to cover. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook for abtou 15 minutes, or until the carrots are slightly softened. Add the fish, shrimp and tofu, cook until the fish and shrimp are firming up. Top up with broth as needed. Wilt the greens into the stew. Allow to simmer for a few minutes longer to mellow the flavors, but be careful not to overcook the fish.

Stats 2002-2005

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This will be terribly dull for most of you, but Tod needs to prune the site's access logs, and I'd like to have some record of the statistics for mediatinker. So forgive me, but here's a lot of boring detail.

stats-chart.gif

2002 (jun-dec): 12,223 visitors (19,912 visits)
2003 (jan-dec): 100,650 visitors (177,214 visits)
2004 (jan-dec): 244,393 visitors (430,647 visits)
2005 (jan-date): 200,929 visitors (462,593 visits)

The most popular pages on the site are:

Gingerbread CPU 137,216 views
Illustrated MT Templates 65,651
Thai Fisherman's Pants 24,389
History of Zero 20,209

The most popular videos are:

Hello Tokyo Intro 1,555 views
Hello Tokyo Title Sequence 1,516
Let's Make Umeshu 796

Excruciating monthly detail below:

Blog as a verb

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A friend online asked me what I was doing.

"Blogging for yesterday," I replied.

"Blogging. as a verb. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO"

"Yes, sometimes."

"Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo, say it ain't so."

"Not always. Usually 'posting an entry' or 'writing'."

"Writing is good."

"But 'blogging' is succinct. Besides, today I'm not writing. I'm posting a drawing."

Several friends have complained that 'blog' is ugly (and it is). But it's a losing battle for the "the word's weblog, not blog" crowd. Google has 155 million instances of weblog; and 488 million of blog.

Blog as a verb is a useful summation of a variety of actions - writing, proofreading, image creation/editing, file uploading and pressing submit buttons--in a particular context, the weblog environment. I can't think of another single verb that does the same.

Until someone comes up with one, I will use "blog" as a verb and make my friends cringe.

Fat + Gravity = *sigh*

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Here's where the French cheese and pastries ended up.

Unidentifiable

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My passport has reached the end of its useful life after 9 years and 8 months. I've sent it in to be renewed.

So for the next indefinite amount of time I am without proof of existence. Although I do have my "gaijin card" to prove my residence in Tokyo, it doesn't do me much good beyond the borders of Japan. So no bad behaviour and no travel until my new passport appears.

Before I mailed my passport to the Embassy (who in turn sends it on to the Passport Agency in the US who processes it in approximately 4 weeks then returns it to the Embassy who mails it back to me), I counted the number of times I've entered Japan.

I guessed a dozen. I was wrong. I've been allowed into Japan 24 times.

Can hardly wait to get my new passport and increment by one.

FSM Apartments

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Does the Flying Spaghetti Monster live in my neighborhood? (Click for larger view)

This broadsheet appeared in my mailbox for a nearby highrise. I couldn't help thinking that Verdure Residence "Foliage" might be a good place for the Flying Spaghetti Monster to live.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster, for those yet uninitiated, is a satire on the "Intelligent Design" theory of creation. His followers, who believe the FSM created the Earth and continues to influence it with His Noodly Appendage, have sent letters to all the boards of education who are advocating teaching intelligent design and have received some responses.

You can read all about FSM and his followers (the Pastafarians) at Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I can see this building from my window, so will keep an eye open for His Noodliness to come around with the moving van. If you want more information about the FSM Apartments, check out the website (in Japanese) at Joint Corporation

Dominant sense

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creative perspectivesYou may have noticed that lots of the Creative Perspectives articles deal with one or more of the five senses. They are, after all, where we get the foundation for many of our ideas.

But have you ever considered which one is your dominant sense? We all are aware of our dominant hand, the one we write with; or our dominant eye, the one we use if we look through a telescope or camera viewfinder. But do you know that you probably have a dominant sense, too?

If you're not sure, think about these questions.

  • When you think back on a dinner party do you remember the way the food tasted, or do you replay the conversations, or do you picture the table settings in your mind's eye?
  • What most attracts you to your partner(s) - the texture of her hair, the smell of his skin, the color of her eyes, or the sound of his voice?
  • Would you prefer to wear something that had a wonderful texture or something that looked great in the mirror?
  • When you visit a garden, would you rather touch the plants, smell them, taste them, or look at them?

There are likely a thousand questions to draw out the answer, but I'm sure you get the idea so I will cut the list short. (Feel free to add some questions in the comments if you think of good or interesting ones)

Even through self-examination, it's not always easy to tell what your dominant sense is. If questioning doesn't get you anywhere, sometimes it will reveal itself in the sort of creative projects you take on. A creative cook is likely to have dominant taste and smell; a pen and ink artist is visual; a weaver is probably grooving on touch.

This can be a strength you play up. Or you can turn yourself around and try a new perspective by engaging your non-dominant senses. Visual creatives can try knitting, or people with hearing as a dominant sense might try to paint a watercolor.

Next time you're looking for a twist on your work, try letting your non-dominant senses take over for a while.

Carrot Flowers and Starred Shiitake

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recipe thursdayIn preparation for next week's recipe--a Japanese winter stew--here's a video to show you how to do some of the decorative cuts that make nabe as lovely to look at as it is delicious to eat.

playicon.gif Simple Japanese Decorative Cutting 3.7 MB 1'41" MP4

21,157 miles

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Here and there and back again

In two weeks, Tod & I have visited three continents, slept in four time zones, and accrued 21,157 airline miles each. That's enough to fly free to North or South Asia.

But I'm happy to be home for a while now. I'm tired! I'll redeem those miles another time.

Starry morning

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Our last morning at the chateau in Bordeaux, I pulled open the tall narrow windows and thrust my head out into the ebony pre-dawn. Just in front of me was Jeremy's curve of stars spinning from Gemini to Orion--my first glimpse of that glorious golden mean since last winter.

At 6:45 when we departed, the full moon illiminated the vineyards, and as we rode an hour to the train station on the first leg of our two-day journey home, I watched the sun brush a faint glow across the eastern sky and the stars fade into a brightening blue.

St. Emilion

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The narrow streets of St. Emilion

Our last full day we spent in St. Emilion, one of the most lovely villages I've ever visited. The town is built on the site of a limestone cave where Emilion came to hide after becoming too famous in his Robin Hood-esqe adventures elsewhere in France during the 8th century. It didn't work for him, though. People sought him out for cures and miracles and eventually he was canonised.

Today there is a cavernous church carved into the town's steep hill and all the buildings are made from the excavated stone that took two centuries to remove.

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The town with grape vines in the foreground.

The area is well known for its wines, which are re-ranked every ten years. This is in contrast to the chateaux of Medoc which received their ranking in 1855 and have never varied. We tasted a few of St. Emilion's wines and bought one to drink at home later.

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Tod, Zoupi & I take a break in the country.

After touring the town on foot and enjoying lunch, we went on a bike ride through the vineyards with Raphael, a local tour guide. He took us to
a series of grottoes on a cliffside overlooking the Dordogne before we turned back to town.

It was gorgeous scenery and easy enough terrain. But I still managed to pull a muscle and get a flat tire. I really am cursed regarding bicycles. I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to remember the French word for "flat tire." I knew it once from Milles Bourne.

Medoc

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Monsieur is very serious about his wines

We began the day with a tour of the Chartrons district of Bordeaux city. This is the riverfront where the wine merchants had their warehouses. Back in the days before wine was bottled at the chateaux, the wine merchants did the bottling at their warehouses.

We were taught to taste wine properly--grip the glass by the foot, sniff the still wine, swirl, sniff again and finally roll a small mouthful across the tongue to see which tastebuds respond. It was fun. And who can complain about three or four good gulps of wine before lunch?

After a lunch at a cafe in town, we boarded a bus along with 50 other people and headed out to Medoc to visit some wineries. It was rather boring, to be truthful, though the countryside was pretty and we did learn more about the wine production process. We visited chateaux in two different appleations producing different classes of wine.

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The best part of the afternoon was the tasting at Chateau Kiriwan.

Fronsac

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Chateau de la Riviere, Fronsac

It was hard to leave Paris behind. We'd had such a wonderful time and it was so beautiful. Could a few days in the countryside be as good? Actually, more than emotionally difficult to depart; the travel agent booked our TGV tickets for the wrong day.

But we sorted that out and soon found ourselves at Chateau de la Riviere, a working winery with a castle built in 1577. Our room was in the Renaissance wing, built in the 19th century by the renowned Gothic Revival architect Viollet-le-Duc. It was a beautiful place to stay.

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Melanie tours us through the caves

After settling in, we toured the chateau and its enormous labyrinth of caves. They stretch for more than 8 hectares beneath the vineyards and woods and contain over half a million bottles of wine and aging barrels. We sampled some wines from the chateau and the other family wineries and discovered that we can get at leat one of the vintages in Tokyo.

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Drawing vines while the cat plays with invisible foes

For dinner, we walked to the nearest restaurant, Chez Carles, about half an hour away, using Melaine's loaned lamp to pick our way along the dark forest path to the road. In true proof that my French is really horrible, I told the waitress when we arrived, "Nous sommes reservation." We are a reservation. Well, she got the point. Dinner was surprisingly wonderful for a place where we were the only patrons.

As we finished up with coffee and dessert, the waitress, who chattered pleasantly though we simply didn't understand, brought over the phone. The owner of the chateau, M. Gregoire, was calling. It had begun to rain slowly and he insisted on bringing his car down to collect us. How generous and thoughtful.

Anniversary

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Staircase in L'Arc de Triumphe

We celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary with another long walk around Paris, culminating in a climb to the top of the Arc de Triumphe.

We followed that with dinner at La Tour d'Argent, opened in 1582 and known to be the restaurant that introduced the fork to Europe, as well as being the vanguard of coffee and chocolate in Paris. We had both to end our meal at a window seat overlooking the Seine, preceded by delicious appetisers, the famous serial numbered duckling, and to my great delight, a flaming peach for dessert.

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The number of our duck: 1,035,662

In gentlemanly fashion, Tod had the menu with the prices; I was not allowed to enquire. I peeked at the wine list and saw that our bottle of vintage 1989 Medoc wine was 150 Euros. I am glad I don't know the rest. It was worth it, whatever the price.

Beautiful Paris

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Parisian intersection

Paris is a lovely city. Redesigned in the late 19th century by Hausmann, the old buildings in the central city all have balconies on the 2nd and fifth floors. Most of the buildings abut the street and are six stories tall, so there is a consistency throughout Paris that is quite pleasant.

Yesterday and today, we walked through the central parts of the city extensively, sometimes with a guide from Context: Paris and other times on our own. There is so much to see. So many beautiful details.

I've started a photoset on Flickr with 18 of my favorite photos from the city. Most of them were taken by Tod, but a few are mine, too. I have black and white images on film that need to be developed.

10 Kgs await me

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5 kilos for my thighs at the patisserie

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And another five kilos at the fromagerie

(photos by Tod; I was too busy drooling)

Freaky American Product

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Tod left Japan with a cold (which I've caught just in time to go to France) and his sister bought him some of the oddest medicine I've ever encountered.

Sudafed Shower Soothers look and smell like urinal cakes. You put the hard blue disk on the floor of the shower and hop in. The hot water reacts with the chemicals and sends off pungent plumes of camphor and eucalyptus vapor to sting your eyes and nasal passages into feeling better as you exit the shower.

Not so soothing.

The Maternal Side

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Jean presides over the family at the OBC.(Click for larger version.)

This is Tod's mom, Jean, along with Mark (Maureen's partner) and his son, Owen, Seth, Maureen, Tod & me. Thanks to Louise for snapping a picture in which everyone was smiling.

Kekkon Omedetou

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Nancy and Pete dance together at their wedding reception

Tod's father remarried today in a huge wedding extravaganza. His bride, Nancy, made the most of her first-ever wedding ceremony. At the reception, she explained that her "inner bride" really caught her by surprise. I'd agree--their home doorbell was programmed with the Wedding March.

I wasn't positioned to get a good photo of the 14 attendants, two flower girls and two ring bearers at the ceremony, but I did capture this great picture of Tod & his sister, Maureen, recessing after the grand ceremony.

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Maureen and Tod as matron of honor and best man at their father's wedding.

Old Biddies' Commune

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Library in the living room

Tod's mom shares a huge old house with two of her friends--they bought the place, moved in together last year and dubbed their new home the Old Biddies' Commune.

The house is wonderful brick building from 1938. There are lots of sunny windows and the stairway curves in a wonderful arc at the landing. Upstairs, everyone has her own suite with a bathroom. The first floor and basement are a large common rooms for dining, entertaining and just lounging around. Outside is a stone patio and a large backyard with a path leading into a quiet grotto.

The shared rooms are decorated with a mix of antiques, art, books and keepsakes from all three women's collections and it's difficult to tell where one's taste lets off and the others' begins. They have distinctive personal styles, but in good harmony.

We're staying here a few days during a family function, then we are off to Paris and Bordeaux to celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary. So if I'm not posting every day, please understand. I'll be back in Tokyo later this month with lots of photos and stories to share.

WiFi Train Stations

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Good news for commuters with laptops. NTT offers wireless access points in stations all around Tokyo. Already there are over a hundred JR and commuter stations online and by mid-2006, they should have over 250 subway stations plugged into the 'Net.

Bad news is that it isn't free. Monthly access is 1575 yen, or you can buy a "time ticket" for 300 yen that's good for 12 hours. Another poor selling point is that the range is limited. For example, at Tokyo station, you can connect on platforms 14 through 19 but not 1-13.

You can find out more (in Japanese) at NTT BP.

Paragliding

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I'm flying!

This weekend we went to Ibaraki to try paragliding with the Tokyo Gaijins, a group that organizes outdoor activities like skiing and camping.

We did tandem jumping with skilled paragliders, and got to jump off a 300 meter mountain and glide through the air to land in a field at the base of the hill. It was wonderful to be in the sky. I was a bird. I stretched out my arms and felt the wind sliding past me like a current. I yearned to play with the controls.

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Tod captured the moment of my stumble and the result.

My takeoff was not so smooth, though. As we ran towards the cliff, I tripped and fell, dragging Kanamoto-sensei and the wing with me. No damage done and we managed to get off the ground on the second try.

One of our party took short videos of everyone flying and she will send them to me for posting. I'll let you know when they're online.

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