it’s sunday. it’s the winter solstice. we have only 4 days before christmas – i wonder how you’re enjoying this sunday with your family or friends. actually, my brother is going home on christmas day. even for a few weeks before his forthcoming operation, this is good news. as for me, my lazy sunday morning started with pancakes. with no particular reason, this has become my sunday custom for quite a long time, though i don’t exactly remember since when (if a friend or my daughter or son stayed with me, i’d probably make eggs benedict for a change). i usually have pancakes as sunday brunch -- sometimes i’d go for american style blueberry pancakes, or sometimes french style crêpes – its style is totally up to my mood.
in the meantime, when i had a walk in my park last winter, i came across ruby-like berries with heart-shaped leaves in the bush. people seemed to neither notice nor cared about the gems. so i went bramble-hunting in “mon jardin sauvage” on a chilly afternoon. the berries were plenty there, but so tiny. so i could pick only a handful of them. when i came home i washed and cleaned them with extra care, which demanded a finely-executed manoeuvre like doll house making. it was fun, though. i made a spoonful of jam and pancakes: voilà, crêpes au coulis de framboises d’hiver et crème fraîche. it was scrumptious. i relished the wild flavour.
later, i learned that the name of the bramble was “winter berry 冬苺” and sold as “valentine berry”, which represents successful love. as winter berry 冬苺 bears fruit in winter usually around st valentine’s day, some nursery company has named it as their own discretion. just for their business purpose, they have even made up a romantic and trashy story behind: you will win love from someone you are in love with if the plant bears fruits. gee … i don’t really want to call this tiny wild bramble this way. it’s romantic, maybe, but it’s way too commercial. i’m too old to need such make-believe like that.
no matter what it was called i couldn’t help wishing my secret berries to be there for my secret pleasure, rather selfishly. my heart got caught by a little worry as i passed the bush -- would i be seeing the little gems the next winter again? for the matter of that, yes. when i had a walk in the park a couple of days ago, i saw the berries in the bush this winter too, but much fewer than last year somehow. it’s probably because of this year’s long summer and mild winter, i suspect. much as i’d hoped this bramble-hunt would become my personal year-end fun event, it hasn’t happened yet. i think i should wait a little while till they bear more fruits enough to pick a handful of them.
still, there are some other things to happen this time of year. mayu, a friend of mine i met through my work, would come back to japan from london. she did this year, too. on friday, i went into town to see her. like last year, our meeting place was, osaka hilton hotel, whose glass-walled lobby was surrounded by christmassy shop windows outside. we could hardly content ourselves with some 2.5-hour chat but managed to update each other’s news. i saw her off near the station when she headed back for her home town in okayama. mayu is staying with her mother over the weekend and this monday she’s flying back to london where her english husband awaiting her. she’s now got her own “home sweet home” there.
in japan, we don’t have christmas religiously -- it’s not even a national holiday -- but we do have it customarily (just for kids and the young especially for lovers). we in fact are not alone, it seems. i’ve found religiously diverse fun-loving new yorkerson the street (by bill cunningham) hilarious! but, rather than christmas, most japanese are preparing our new year celebration, which is just like christmas. it is the day for family and togetherness (or stress?). by the way, i’d spent most of chrismas days being all on my own since i got divorced because my kids would join their grand parents. oh, don’t pity me, please. i loved those real silent days and nights, listening to the radio. i’ve been with my mother these years for christmas and am going to cook for her this year, too.
these pics of the aurora borealis (on the guardian) are absolutely gorgeous. luckily, i’ve seen real one once from the window during my flight from tokyo to paris via anchorage. it was decades ago and it wasn’t as clear as i wished, however. anyway, carry on having lots of fun, everyone!
in december 2004, i was back in buenos aires. i was busy working on my magazine 11-page feature, while most porteños were getting ready for their holidays. i heard that the city would be empty by christmas. my sole local friend, tomás, was looking tied to his new e-commerce business so i couldn’t ask him to help out my assignment. i had no one to consult with, either. i started the project alone from scratch. i looked for local photographers who had done lots of building shots for editorial work on the net. since my magazine, casa brutus, is a design+architecture+fashion journal, the feature had to highlight architectural buenos aires.
i made good progress as i nearly walked my legs off. i hired 3 photographers: javier, who left me for a better job in the middle of the project; after all, he got me pablo for the rest of our shoots and ioana whom i contacted through her web site. (also my digital photos were used. there was no credit, though.) my main focus, decided by my client, casa brutus, was philippe stark’s new design hotel, faena, in puerto madeiro, a redeveloping area. the feature covered from classic and modern to contemporary buenos aires. its topics varied from old and new architecture to trendy spots in palermo.
featuring beautiful architecture such as puente de la mujer, the sculptural bridge designed by the prominent architect, santiago calatrava, seemed impeccable, but the feature needed to contain some interesting story to tell. it was sheer chance that i got a contact of the legenary argentine architect, clorindo testa. i managed to arrange an interview with him. testa is famous for his brutalist buildings (rough concrete & exposing pipes and ducts) but less known than other argentine architects such as cesar pelli and rafael viñoly. he has certain admirers in japan, though. before my interview, i and ioana went down to la plata, 50 km away from the city centre, to do a shoot on casa curutchet, designed by the pioneer of brutalism, le corbusier.
corbu’s house was not particularly well-preserved, however, looked pretty cool. although i like his architecture, i’m not fond of his personality. he was among my heroes when i was an art college student, but once i found that he painted (graffiti) eileen gray’s house without asking her out of petty jealousy about her talent and popularity and the anecdote turned me off. apparently, he was not a big-hearted jolly chap. actually, corbu was clorindotesta’s inspiration. he was also an artist and so is clorindo. in comparison, clorindo is wonderfully bounteous. his smile tells so. i visited him in his office+studio+home on avenida santa fe (just 5 minute-drive from my apartment) after the shoot in la plata.
my interview with the great and, personality-wise, incredibly modest architect gave me such pleasure. clorindo never sounded like he, anchoring himself to his desk chair, was interested in fame or lucrative projects at all. as i asked him some question, he answered it drawing something on his sketch pad with a felt-tip pen, for instance a dinosaur that he personally associated with his work, biblioteca nacional. and porteños love it. we were going to do a shoot there, anyway. to avoid our possible bureaucratic hassle, he kindly wrote a letter to its director, seeking permission to take photos inside the library for ioana and me. that sort of procedure could take weeks or even months.
summer day light in buenos aires is too bright to take photos. so ioana suggested finishing our shoot for the library’s exterior before the sun rose too high. she woke me up at 5:10 am the following morning to get there. the sun was not up yet, we were too early to take photos, however. it was ok. waiting was part of my work, really. ioana tried her best to be helpful, but we both got exhausted from our own kind of perfectionism. all in all, our shoots including banco de londres came off ok. ioana left buenos aires for a long summer break with her little daughter, while i carried on other shoots with javier. when he left me for a prestigious and well-paid job in urguay, pablo took it over from him. then, my 2-month porteña life was over.
i am prone to look back on those days in buenos aires sentimentally, maybe. but i know that, if i had been a plain tourist there, the south american city wouldn’t have stayed on my mind this way.
i am happy with another sunny sunday to enjoy japanese winter, though we’ve had a freezing morning: the temperature fell below zero overnight. i don’t mind the cold as long as the sky is blue.
i guess you, if in some christian country, are about to go frantic for christmas shopping (take it easy, everyone!!). i know how you feel right now. as for me, i’m not christian. i’m neither a kid anymore nor one of young twosomes in love (japanese christmas is adopted commercially and adapted exclusively for them!), so christmas is no big deal. still, i’d truly miss the english festive mood as soon as i turn the last page of my calendar. in fact, this december is no exception. i’ve begun to long for the festive mood of england i used to take it for granted. i wish i were back in london, my 3-time second home, just for yuletide.
staying in london for a week would be great even if its winter sky is gloomy, but spending a few days in the country would be fantastical. i had a chance to do that. exactly 5 years ago when shion, my daughter, flew from tokyo and stayed with me in london, mr dreamer took us to newbury in the west of the county of berkshire, where he was at the time taking care of his friend’s home while the entire family (except their furry little creatures) was away on holiday.
english countrysides feel so welcoming while the english winter is infamously bleak. and the house, converted by his friend, jonathan, himself from a grade 2 listed barn, is luxuriously but not ostentatiously decorated with english elegance by his wife, sue. it is as if the house embodies my favourite images of country life just like pictures from the glossy magazine “country living”. in their house, there were two pianos: mini-grand and upright. shion and mr dreamer amused themselves by playing the piano or a guitar in the music room, and i sat back by the fireplace in the lounge with a whiff of burning logs.
whatever we did or wherever we moved within the house, we were surrounded by the ambiance of classical englishness. it is, though, a typically modernised country estate with a barn-turned huge family house and a farm building-turned cottage for guests. several months later, i also had an opportunity to stay at the cottage. jonathan and sue had kindly put up mr dreamer and me for a little while before we moved together to buenos aires in the spring of 2004. (but my decision to quit work for the new life there was a big mistake, by the way.)
the house set in a tranquil rural setting was like a dream. i had such a lovely time there being under the apple blossom in the spring. but staying in the winter was more than that. it was quite an experience to me. i yielded to the sheer serenity as much as i could, looking at the misty meadows and woodlands adjacent to the newbury racecourse and a golf course. the only thing i regretted was i had no proper footgear. it wasn’t that easy to step into the meadow. i’d never trained myself to stomp on that soggy english ground. pity. that’s the downside of the english countryside, i’m afraid.
(i’ve learned that shuichi kato加藤周一, my intellectual hero, passed away on friday. he was 89. he was japan’s leading critic and the greatest generalist crossing over many different cultural spheres. i ever sent him kind of a fan mail when he wrote on sarajevo in his column for a japanese daily. he wrote me back with his home address. that meant something special to me. so i wrote him again. may his soul rest in peace!)
i visited my brother in his hospital yesterday. he looked good and said he actually felt better than last week, so that we could have a long chat. i'm relieved that he’s most likely to go home before christmas. he'll soon be free (at least for a while). yes, today is already the last day of november and we will soon have christmas and the new year. but every japanese cannot help but think about momiji 紅葉 this time of the year. the word, momiji-gari 紅葉狩, reminds me of the famous title for a kabuki play (based on a noh play).
momiji-gari (literal meaning is “momiji hunt” and actual meaning is “viewing scarlet maple leaves”) is kind of our national obsession, and it is our essential and seasonal tradition that still shows our naturalist side, which i don’t want to lose. so i went out momiji-gari with my mother. we had just a pleasant walk, viewing colourful momiji leaves in my park, as it was. on my way home i saw a kingfisher flying to the branch of momiji near a small pond that is a winter scene of my park. it was a lovely sunny morning and i managed to mark the end of the autumn 2008.
* in the mean time, i spend 3 days in tokyo last weekend. i met up my girlfriends in a busy pub near shibuya station. before getting there, i had a tiny accident – the kitten heel of my short boot got stuck in a groove of the platform (merde!!) and broke when i got off a bullet train and walked on. it was not groovy, really. i’d forgotten how crowded tokyo was until i found myself struggling to keep my way. but our reunion was fun. the more excited about our girl talk we got, the louder our voices rose. i had 2 hours. though it was too short for them to fill me in, it was bad enough to increase my crow's feet. * the main aim of my tokyo trip in fact was to visit gotenba with louie, my son, and chiharu, his fiancée, to meet with her parents. they’ve finally decided to tie the knot next year. it was a perfect autumn day for a drive from tokyo to gotenba in shizuoka prefecture. many other people also appeared to think so. the highway's heavy traffic worn mr piano-man, my ex-husband, out. i felt sorry for the driver. still, it must be worthwhile for him, too. we viewed the most magnificent mt fuji on the way. i’d never seen mt fuji that close and that big before. *
chiharu’s father, a young-looking retiree, grows crops, tea plants and various fruits and vegetables as one of his hobbies. and in the background of the garden he designed, mt fuji stood out clear against the flawless blue sky. that was kind of the scenery of sheer bliss. and her mother whom i’d met once before, is a lovely person and one of a few working mothers in the village. she seemed to have slaved over a hot stove all morning. she served us home-grown tea and homemade sweets, using home-grown ingredients.
as we left the house for lunch since they booked a table at a nearby hotel restaurant at the foot of mt fuji, her mother handed me a huge shopping bag. i was curious about what’s inside. guess what? there were many boxes of local specialties and delicacies: for example, a fresh real wasabi, which is no longer seen in our fridges (i’m sure many people have no chance to see a fresh one in life, so i show you my pics) in each bag of mr piano-man’s and mine. our brief visit went like: we got there; finished all the plates on the table; bagged plunder half an hour later and then quickly left.
in retrospect, mr piano-man and i could've been like bandits, i’m afraid. yet, how could i never say no when her mother also offered us bags of home-grown peanuts, rice and fresh yuzu picked from their garden? we japanese almost cannot have a new year’s feast without yuzu. meanwhile, louie looks forward to helping chiharu’s father out to farm and harvest next year. it sounds like lohas, don't you think? her parents have epitomised that. i am extremely envious of their lifestyle!
(i've just called louie, my son, to wish him a happy birthday. he sounds funny as always. he never means to be funny, though.) * 4 years ago today, i arrived at ezeiza airport in buenos aires – alone. the flight from osaka via toronto took me more than 20 hours. it was exactly a half around-the-world trip. the two cities are situated in the same latitude, but north and south. so the seasons were completely opposite: from early winter to early summer. *
tomás, my young porteño amigo, picked me up from the airport. then, he drove me to juncal in barrio norte. i returned to the same apartment hotel, where i had lived for four month until early september. “hola!”-- the familiar face handed me the key and a postcard. it was from pete and the apartment after i left. the receptionist had kept it for me. unfortunately, as the 9th floor was occupied by somebody, i went up to the 5th floor this time. but the décor was same, the two were identical since the two belonged to the same owner.
as soon as tomás brought my suitcase in and made sure that i was happy with the new apartment, he stood by the door, already gripping his car key, and said: “you must be tired after the long journey. i’ll leave you to take a rest.” in fact, i was exhausted. but i didn’t feel like resting. i was exited, rather i was delirious. i looked out from my window and recognised that the tall sycamore, which, i only remember, was completely bare, grew fresh green leaves in el instituto italiano de cultura’s garden adjoined to my building’s backyard.
the jacaranda was covered in bluish purple flowers here and there, all over the town. i was back in buenos aires to work on some magazine features just like i was doing in london, which made me feel so content about becoming a porteña again. i didn’t need to find myself at a loose end anymore there. i went out. “buen dia”-- i bought myself a tiny bunch of jasmine from a street vendor. well, that’s gardenia, not jasmine, but the name is confusingly different in latin america. no matter what the flowerer is called, its sweet scent wouldn’t escape me, still now.
* i’m going up to tokyo this weekend to get together with my children and girlfriends. you, too, have a great weekend!