gurdymonkey: (Default)

 No, I'm not in an area that's on fire. I live on an island in the San Francisco Bay. I am safe. 

But it's bad. 

Coffey Park in Santa Rosa looks like Hiroshima.

The current death toll is 17 with over 100 people missing. 

Smoke from the fires is affecting the air quality here. 

And the winds are supposed to pick up today.

gurdymonkey: (Default)

So now that I have the details, this is how it went down. Evidently Mom had been feeling under the weather a day or to before, but when Elaine texted her on the morning of the 15th, she said she was feeling great, was planning on going for a walk, doing some chores and calling her cable company. She was on the phone to Verizon and the rep asked her to go turn on the TV which was in the basement. She got to the bottom of the stairs, sat down, said, "Let me catch my breath," and he heard her drop the phone. Verizon immediately put in a 911 call when she didn't answer the guy, and Emergency Services broke a window to unlock the front door and go find her. Annapolis PD called my sister Elaine immediately and she went straight over to the house. She called Miriam and me (I took the call at about 7:30 PDT, so it was 10:30 AM their time.) 

I flew out on Thursday, with the shortest connection ever through San Diego - couldn't get the one daily nonstop on such short notice, and didn't get in until 9:30 PM.

Elaine and I went over to the house on Friday after breakfast. I went through Mom's jewelry, feeling like a housebreaker, but honestly, she's been giving me bits of her stuff for years because of the three of us, I'm the only one who is really into vintage jewelry. And I could hear her saying, "Don't be silly, pick what you like and enjoy it!" Elaine insisted I take her wedding ring. I took all the nursing bits: a hat pin you could kill a man with or skewer a starchy cap to your coiffure with, cufflinks, graduation ring, pins. A Mexican silver pendant with some semiprecious stones. One of several strings of pearls - I suspect the others belonged to Grandma McGee, Aunt Pat and maybe Aunt Anne or Aunt Floss. A pair of blue enamel earrings I remember from when I was very small. And a "War Is Unhealthy For Children And Other Living Things" pendant. I need to find a chain for that and wear it this weekend. 

Sitting on the sofa facing her deck, it was an explosion of flowers and potted plants, overlooking the lush August green of her yard, complete with birdhouses and a St. Francis statue. In the basement studio where they found her, two easels had works in progress. That house in Heritage Harbor was a happy place, from the cheery mint green and white kitchen to the electric piano in the front hall and that garden.  

I took a small still life of lemons that I'd always liked and a history of her nursing school as well. I sat down with my cell phone and snapped photos from albums of me and my sisters spanning my birth up to 1971. There was no way I'd ever get through all of the albums in the house in a weekend. I told Elaine and Miriam several times over the weekend that if they wanted to box up all the photo albums and ship them to me, I'd make sure we had good quality scans of everything in them. 

Miriam had done the same with a bunch of old photos and I helped crop and improve image quality on them Friday night so we could have them set up as a slideshow for the funeral luncheon.

Mass Saturday morning at St. John Neumann, a church with atrocious acoustics. Mom wanted "Ave Maria" and the church singer obviously hadn't warmed up. Miriam did a eulogy. Nick mumbled his way through the first reading. I did the second: a somewhat abridged version of St. Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, 5:1-10. Tents and courageousness. Coleen made up for the church cantor with a soaring "Amazing Grace." 

Mom's swimming class from Heritage Harbor showed up. So did Dale, her handyman. 

Obituary. (BTW, if you have to plant someone in the Annapolis area, the folks at Hardesty Funeral home did a beautiful job, were extremely kind, and didn't bat an eye when Elaine asked to put Jackpot's cremains in with Mom. Then I'm sure they get weirder than that in their line.

Slideshow Miriam and I put together for the luncheon after the funeral mass. - actually, it looks like Miriam has been adding things to it since then, but if you care to click through, you'll get the idea. I love this one. It's so 80's.

The luncheon would have been at Bertucci's, which she loved, but they had no private rooms, so the girls chose Macaroni Grill instead. It was much better than I would have expected. Had great conversation with Dad and my Uncle Jim. 

We buried her on Monday next to her parents, brother Lee (the priest), her sister Pat and husband Bill and Pat and Bill's son Kevin at St. Aloyisius up in Pottstown. Elaine had hired a limo, but it was just Dad, her and me in it because Miriam and Alex decided to drive. Our driver was a softspoken older African American gentleman and he took very good care of us. I would have been willing to drive us all, but Elaine was exhausted and it was a good call. 

Father Hickey, an old friend of Uncle Lee's and my Mom's did the graveside service. I was standing behind Dad (there were chairs, but after three hours in a car I felt like standing). He began murmuring in Hebrew during the Lord's Prayer and Hail Mary. Clouds rolled in and a breeze cooled the oppressive humidity. I was glad to see that the treeline had grown up to mostly obscure the cooling towers of the Limerick nuke plant. I remember Mom making snarky comments about the view when we buried my grandfather up there in 1987.

Over the course of the week from when I first got the news, right up to the middle of the night before the burial when it woke me up in the middle of the night, I had been earwormed by Fred Astaire singing "Cheek to Cheek."  So while people were drifting away and figuring out what to do about lunch and when the eclipse was going to start, I stood at the foot of the box she isn't really in and sang it. Then I said, "Go home already." 

In the film, "Bridge of Spies," Mark Rylance plays a man accused of spying for the Russians. Throughout the story, his lawyer (Tom Hanks) says, "You don't seem alarmed/upset/worried." The spy always replies calmly, "Would it help?"
They say there are seven stages of grief. I seem to have gone straight to Acceptance.

Everyone dies. She was 84. Dad's going to go sooner or later and I know that. Do I wish I'd called more often, when she would scold that I was running up the phone bill? We emailed and texted. I got to see her in May and we had a good visit. My family and I laughed a lot this weekend, looking at pictures, finding treasures tucked in drawers, remembering adventures and conversations and funny stuff she would do. 

She had a good life. She died in her studio surrounded by things she had made and it was quick. Not a bad note to end on. 

gurdymonkey: (Default)

Dear Mom,

I woke up this morning three hours before my alarm went off with a sinus headache. I took something for it, drank some water and tried to get some rest before it was time to go off to work.

Elaine tells me you and she were texting back and forth about then. She said she was feeling great, planning on going for a walk, paying her bills and calling her phone company. She also tells me you died. Heart attack. She told me that 20 minutes into my work day.

We all know that's how you wanted to go, having a good day, not knowing what hit you. Not a bad way to go. Wouldn't mind that for myself, if I have to think about it.

Angela insisted I waste a perfectly good personal day and go home, even though I won't know when to book a flight for until Miriam and Elaine and meet with the funeral home tomorrow and I have an idea when I need to come see you. What a waste. That's a personal day I might have been able to tack on my three lousy days of bereavement leave. I could've kept busy and been productive and held it together for eight hours. Instead I was faced with construction noise and alternate side parking at home- so I did a grocery run, made a bank deposit, then went back to the apartment and fired up the laptop so I could at least approve office supply orders.  I did some reading. It occurred to me I down own any black tops that aren't tee shirts, so I went to Uniqlo. Hated everything and bought something anyway. At least it was on sale. 

You taught me about being practical and responsible, so I'm trying to do that. I've informed Angela that I will go to work tomorrow and let her know what my plans are when I know what we're doing with you.

I lit a candle instead of incense, because it's you. I hate martinis, but I'm enjoying a Bushmill's with ginger beer, because I'm outta limes and tonic water. Staffan is keeping me "company" via text right now. He offered dinner and a blanket fort, but I'd be crap company right now and he has his own struggles. You'd like him. He's a smartass. Might lean on him later if I need to, but this is still so new, I'm not sure how I feel. I haven't cried yet, not really. You know me, deal with the crisis, save the meltdown for when it's all over.

84 years old, living your life on your own terms, puttering in your garden. Close enough to family, but independent enough to do your own thing.

I heard a thing on the news about the upcoming solar eclipse and it took me back to that night in Minneapolis you woke me up in the middle of the night and let me sit by an open window in the freezing cold to watch a lunar eclipse. Dissecting a chicken heart to show me the chambers. Taking me for riding lessons and then starting yourself and becoming Barn Mom for a whole herd of kids, including the overgrown kid that was our trainer.  God, those three day drives from Minneapolis to Pottstown with three small kids rattling around a Nova station wagon. Your grocery-bag-and-crepe-paper pinatas for birthday parties.

I am who I am because of you. My eyes have burned a bit today, but the crying hasn't come yet. Maybe tomorrow, maybe later in the week. Maybe not at all.

It's going to take a while to get used to this, a world without you. But I know you. Get on with my life, be strong, smart, useful. Do what I can to make things better, whatever that may -

Crap. I have to let people know I can't teach this weekend.

Right. Onward. I'll see you off properly later.

Love you forever, Mom.


gurdymonkey: (Default)
 A peer doesn't say, "You'll never be as good as me." A peer says, "How can I help you do better?"

Yesterday, one of our Western White Scarves wrote a heartbroken and heartbreaking post to his Facebook. This person told him "I know you're trying, but you're too old" to ever be a MoD." This person also told him that cut-and-thrust will not get him considered for a MoD - which is horseshit. The WWS lives in a relatively remote area and has to care for a disabled wife. This does not prevent him from driving long distances to try to get to events both in the West and An Tir. He loves to fight. He loves to teach. If I know he's going to be at something, it inspires ME to drive long distances so I can go fight him and his cadet - because they're so much fun to work with. He's done research on period fighting styles that adapt well to cut-and-thrust as we do it in the SCA. 

While the WWS did not mention names, the offending MoD outed himself with a post on his own timeline about having hurt a friend. When I saw who it was, I was not at all surprised, because it proved all over again that a white collar does not make a peer. (The irony is that the FB cover photo of this "master" is of him fighting me at the event where he refused to die to me.) 

This guy was told that he'll never be a MoD by a schmuck who he'd just killed five fights in a row. He was told he's too old by someone who is at least as old as he is and who always seems to manage to be too tired or too injured if he feels like ducking a fight. He was told he'll never be a peer by someone who just keeps proving over and over and over again that he does not know how to be a peer.  

I'm gonna go to An Tir West this week. I am going to beg as many fights with my friend as I possibly can because he will teach me, he will beam and laugh when I kill him, he will give hug me when we are done. He will be the peer that Schmuck MoD is not. 
gurdymonkey: (Default)


"Really good at apologizing, not so good at getting my vehicle actually repaired. Yet.

First appointment was on 5/17/17 to diagnose a check-engine-light warning. Mechanic Tien P. arrived promptly, examined my vehicle and then left. Shortly after, I received not one, but two emails with two separate recommended services. Of course, the website did not allow me to combine, so after I made an appointment to have the work done, I had to email customer service to have the services combined. 

Second appointment was for 5/24/17 at 4:30. At 1:53PM I get a text from the mechanic asking if he can come earlier. I say I can be available at 4. A few minutes later I get a text saying he does not have the necessary part and that he will have to reschedule me. I text back that there is an O'Reilly shop in the neighborhood if that helps. I get no reply. At 4:45 I text again to ask if he's coming or not. At 5:00 I book a new appointment for 4:30 on Tuesday 5/30 and cancel my travel plans for the Memorial Day weekend because I don't feel like getting stranded in the Sierras with car trouble. 

I spend over an hour on call backs, dropped calls and requests for escalation on Thursday evening (5/25/17) and this morning (5/26/17) get a voicemail message that the necessary part - you know, the one that *should* have been ordered on 5/17* - will not be available until Wednesday May 31. At no time during any of the phone calls have I been given full names or extension numbers I can call back, so I get a new customer service representative every single time. I FINALLY get someone to reschedule my appointment - because the stupid website won't let me do it myself because a button is missing from the screen I've been directed to - which is now for Thursday, June 1. Lo and behold, the estimate has nearly doubled. "Oh, that's for the part." You know, the one that should have been ordered on 5/17 and included in the original estimate.

The snowball effect of mistakes is strong with these ones. I just want my truck repaired. Is that so much to ask?

Oh, and if the Social Media Fairies at read this review with consternation, please refer to Appointment# 1712656. If there are not red flags all over my file, there should be. Fix this, please."

That's right. It's on Yelp. It's on Facebook. Because it seems that the only way you get customer service in the gig economy is to resort to public shaming. Because when I'm on call# 5 and ask Customer Service Rep# 5 to let me have a supervisor, she puts me on hold and disconnects me. 

gurdymonkey: (Default)

 The saga with continues. As you'll recall, I had a guy come out last week to inspect Lil' Blanche and see why I was getting a "Check Engine Light" warning. He issued two separate service tickets, requiring me to make one appointment and then email to make sure both services would be combined, which I did. Said appointment was for 4:30PM yesterday.

 1:52 PM: mechanic messages to ask if he can come early. I have already made arrangements to leave the office at 3:30 because I figure it might be nice if the engine is not red hot when he shows up, so I message back that I will be home by 4. 

2:16 PM: I receive the following: "I know what car I'm working on now the part they order is wrong sorry I'll call the parts to get it right I'll have to reschedule u back. I message back that there's an O'Reilly Auto Parts store nearby and give its address.

3:30 I leave work early not having heard back on the off chance he is going to show up. 

4:42 I message to ask if he's coming. Get a boilerplate message that he's driving. Handy online map from original appointment updates live and shows him driving AWAY from Alameda.

5PM I make a new appointment, email the customer service rep who combined my service tickets AND post the following to's Facebook Page:


If I book an appointment at 4:30PM in the afternoon, I figure it should be reasonably obvious that I am at work before that, therefore, your mechanic should not be "on his way" to my house at 1:52 PM. Further, he should not then message me a few minutes later to tell me the wrong part was ordered and he has to reschedule and then not get back to me after I messaged back to inform him there is an O'Reilly Auto Parts store less than one mile from my address.

I finally made a new appointment but it's not until May 30. That means I get to stay home for Memorial Day Weekend because these repairs are not getting done this afternoon like they were supposed to.

Please make this right."

This morning the FB post is up:  "Hi Lisa, very sorry for any trouble. Please reply or DM with your email address, phone number, or case number so we can take a closer look at the specifics of your case. Thank you."

So I do. 

Almost simultaneously, I get THIS in my email:

gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)

[ profile] hrj is a maniac. I mean that in a good way. Between all her projects, I am hard pressed just to read all of them. Anyway, back on January 5, she posted: "There I was on Twitter, just reading my tweeps as you do, and there in my feed was an acquaintance (someone I've interacted with, but wouldn't presume to claim as a friend yet at this point), exclaiming, "I need The Three Musketeers set in the same time period but they're all women. This exists, right, Twitter? Right?" And after some bantering back and forth between various Musketeer fans, I suggested, "Then someone will simply have to make it happen." And suddenly there were several sets of virtual eyes pinning me down, saying, "Do it."

In the middle of working on a novel and blogging about lesbians in history and writing about food and linguistics and movie reviewsm she DID. Inspiration works that way, and it's delightful. Go read it! It's free to download and you can find it in several formats at And if you like that, definitely check out her other writing at There's a free e-story set in her Alpennia universe and if you like strong, smart women populating your fantasy fiction, definitely spring for the novels.

gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)
FACT: The SCA claims to be an educational organization dedicated to the study of pre-17th century Europe, but it's really dedicated to the proposition that one should Hit One's Friends With Sticks. It's how we choose our royalty, it's how we structure our event calendar, it is the "world" as we know it, and that's not going to change.

FACT: People are interested in what they're interested in when they're interested in it. I cannot magically make people join the organization, be interested in the particular things that I am interested in, or stick around to do the things I want to do when I want to do them. I cannot make passersby into enthusiastic Society Members, I cannot make you come to practices or events.

FACT: I am responsible for MY game. I can be an example or a stern warning - because people see me around, see what I do and don't do, and judge accordingly. Likewise, you are responsible for your game, and people will observe your actions and judge accordingly. Of these judgments, reputations are made, awards are recommended (or not), perceptions about us are graven in stone.

FACT: I think certain activities are fun. You are under no obligation to like the same things I like. Or dislike. (How boring that would be.)

FACT: We live in the oldest kingdom in the Society. We are stuck with our history but those who have gone before us have still managed to change some minds and make rapier not only survive but earn respect. That's a big damn deal. Be proud of that and keep on rocking that for those who are coming in and will come after. Insularity could have been the death of us. If we want to continue to be considered part of the mainstream, we have to BE part of the mainstream.

FACT: There are only two requirements for participation at Society events: make an attempt at pre-17th century dress and behave as ladies and gentlemen. That's it. All the rest is icing.

FACT: The periodic and frequent breast-beating about The State Of The Rapier Community (TM) is about as un-fun as you can get. I know it sucks joy out of my participation. I'm dancing as fast as I can. I'm struggling to learn as much as my abilities, time and budget will permit. I'm driving to tourneys so I can get my ass handed to me over and over and over again.

I'm here to have fun too and I am not having fun when I have to sit through the same wailing and gnashing of teeth every few weeks.

We are thin on the ground in a geographically large kingdom. Our numbers are small, and the numbers of our White Scarves and Masters of Defense are even smaller. Deal with it, already. Pick up a sword and show up. Or don't. You cannot stand and be counted if you're not here. You cannot support the rapier community from an armchair. If you can't fight, marshal. Herald. Feed and water people. BE there to cheer for your friends.

“I-I am going to be a storm-a flame-
I need to fight whole armies alone;
I have ten hearts; I have a hundred arms;
I feel too strong to war with mortals-
BRING ME GIANTS!”  - Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)

"It's our SCA too," created March 18, 2008.

"I am the SCA" created May 25, 2012.

I started the "I am the SCA" meme a couple years ago, specifically for people who had been told "You can't do that* in the SCA" by blinkered idiots whose game they not only were not harming but were contributing to. (*Having a non Western European persona, fighting with swords with actual steel content, you know, that sort of thing.)

A couple nights ago, I logged on to find a photo of me had been used to create a meme. I didn't particularly appreciate having someone put words that were not mine into my mouth, even in so-called fun. Like it or not, I'm the Poster Girl for "You can't do that in my SCA" for some who continue to be blinkered. I am also, despite that, a Peer of the Society. What I say and do, or am perceived to have said or done, matters. (Word got back to the party in question, she apologized and removed the photo of me.)

Also, I'm old. I was raised to be a good sport, to be as gracious in defeat as in victory. Smack talk, even in fun, sits ill with me, and my face had just been associated with that very thing.

I decided to make a positive statement, using the "I am the SCA" model. "I am the [insert Kingdom name here]" is my doing. If we truly believe our Society is a courteous one, is it not better to express our love of what we do by positive statements instead of tearing down "rivals" who love the same things we do?

I am gratified beyond measure that so many have given thought and voice to their love of and pride in their Society. I had no idea it would go any further than my wall.

There you are. That's what happened and why your friends are all proclaiming "I am the West, East, Calontir, etc.'

I am Lisa Joseph, amateur historian, Japanophile, novice fencer, proud member of the Society For Creative Anachronism since 1995, subject of the Kingdom of the West, Citizen of the Known World, known as Saionji no Hana.

"I am the West" created September 4, 2015, posted to Facebook at 11:10 AM, PDT.

gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)
Cranes may be icons
Of good fortune, but I saw
Silver clad herons.
They watched me from riverbed
And garden, like tall shadows.

Day 1, Jingumichi bridge.

Day 2, Ujigawa. 

Day 3, roof of Sanjusangendo.

Day 4, Oi River, Arashiyama.

Day 5, garden at Heian Jingu shrine.

The daily heron-sighting streak broke at this point, until a final sighting on the canal in Fushimi on Day 11.
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)
Yeah, it got me a cheap fare, but flying from Tokyo to San Francisco via Incheon is kind of a stupid way to spend an afternoon. I'm in freaking Korea with not enough time to actually do anything interesting about it!

Yesterday's train trip to Tokyo went off without a hitch. Never did see Fuji-san because it was rainy and misty. Josh was across the aisle watching a samurai movie on his laptop and a fascinated six-year-old boy came over and decided he was his new best friend.
We found a place for Cori and Andy to store their luggage at the train station, then we took the subway to Ueno Park. Found a surprisingly good Italian place in the train station to grab a bite of lunch, then we spent the afternoon at the Tokyo National Museum. I need to organize my photo batch - and not everything I tried to take pictures of came out well, but their on-view collection was full of interesting and wonderful works and I thoroughly enjoyed it. As with one of the buildings at the Kyoto National Museum, the architecture imitates Western museums of the 19th century, so it was this Beaux Arts pile with Lalique-looking lamps in the central stairway. I will say they have an above-average number of comfortable (if low) seating spaces to rest in if one's feet start to give out, and the ubiquitous soft drink and ice cream vending machines in the basement beside the rest rooms.

Cori and Andy had a flight that evening, so we parted ways with them at the train station, then hopped the subway to Asakusa (pronounced A-SOCK-sa), to check into our hostel, a modern, funky place called Khaosan Laboratory. We went two doors down to meet some SCA friends at a great little okonomiyaki place called Sometaro. Okonomiyaki is a sort of pancake made of batter, cabbage and whatever else one wants to add to it. We ordered several different kinds, grilled them on our own hibachi table, doctored them with everything from soy sauce to mayo, and feasted. I'm glad I finally got to meet Chabi and Stefan - they're cool people. We walked around Asakusa a bit after dinner, found a coffeeshop for a bit of dessert, then we said good night and went back to bunk bed heaven.

Up early this morning for breakfast at Jonathan's, a Denny's-like diner in Asakusa with the usual oddly Japanese touches to their Western menu. It filled the empty and set me up for the walk to the subway line. I said goodbye to Josh and Ellen, who were taking a train in a different direction for another week's adventures, found the train to Narita, picked up the suitcase I'd sent on through Kuroneko (Black Cat), and discovered that my check-in line was being manned by a bevy of Asiana trainees, all petite Asian girls in brown uniforms with perfectly lacquered buns that make them look an awful lot alike.

United had done something weird with my reservation, so I pulled out my cell phone, pulled up the email confirmation with my confirmation number and my trainee was able to retrieve my boarding information. The same young lady turned up again at the boarding gate forty minutes later to take my ticket stub, so I made a point of saying hello and thanking her again.

Asiana's economy class is clean, comfortable and the inflight meal was pretty good. That said, if I had this to do over again, I'd have spent the extra money to fly direct. It's a dumb way to do it and I'm not thrilled with how late I got notification from United of a flight number change.

They should be boarding us shortly for the last leg home.

Japan is amazing. I walked myself lame daily, I coped with humidity and climbed hills and struggled to buy postage stamps without a translator and ate and drank things I'd never tasted before and feasted my eyes on places I'd read about and things I'd never heard of.

I cannot wait to go back.
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)
I'm sitting here with a big teacup full of plum wine on the rocks - as it's the homemade stuff Aoki-san from Okariba gave us and not in an appropriate container, I can't begin to think of bringing it home with me. Josh is working on a glass in the livingroom as he downloads photos.

This morning we took our big suitcases up the street to the 7/11 and filled out the paperwork for Kuroneko ("Black Cat") to forward them on to the airport for us. This is a very handy service and for less than $20, I will not have to drag the big suitcase on the train with me through Tokyo tomorrow, just my duffle carry-on and the laptop bag which I can fit my purse in to count as my personal item. I am a firm believer in "Matryoshka packing" bags withing bags when possible.

We took the train back down to Fushimi to tour the Geikkekan sake museum and do a tasting. Unlike the Takara plant in Berkeley, their museum describes traditional pre-industrial brewing methods. The tasting was two sake and one plum wine, all for sale in their gift shop. At 300Y, it was a good value and fairly fun.

We discovered we could also do a cruise down the canal in a  rice barge, so we did. It was overcast and a bit muggy, so it was pleasant out on the water.

We stopped for lunch at a tonkatsu place in a shopping arcade near the train station. Tonkatsu is usually a lightly breaded pork cutlet (though they also do chicken, shrimp and various sorts of croquettes) served with finely shredded cabbage, rice and miso soup.

We split up on the train back to Kyoto. Josh, Andy and Cori decided to check out the city's new aquarium. Ellen wanted to go back to Nishijin to pick up some things and I wanted to explore something pertinent to my SCA persona.

I chose the name Saionji no Hana when I decided to pursue my interest in Japan in the SCA. The Saionji were a branch of the powerful Fujiwara family during the feudal period and Josh had found a map reference to a Saionji Temple in Kyoto. It turns out the origianl temple was founded in the 1200s by a Fujiwara whose descendants then took the name of the place as their surname. (Sai-on-ji translates as Western Garden Temple) - and it was on the land where the Golden Pavilion now sits. The shogun decided that he wanted the land, the temple was relocated to the Muromachi district, then again to where it is now, in a quiet residential neighborhood north of the center of the city.

We found it: it was clearly undergoing renovation and construction and the main hall was closed up, but it was still exciting for me to see it. "My" name is on the gateposts. The Saionji crest, a tomoe (three swirling drops), was visible on stonework, the doors and the incense urn. I'm glad I got to see it.

Came home and got the rest of my packing done. The rest of the gang turned up in due order and we decided to revisit Bamboo on Sanjo-dori for our last dinner in Kyoto. It's a nice little upscale izakaya serving small plates of all sorts of yummy delicacies. I am full to bursting, there was beer and sake, and I think it's about time for me to shut off for the night.

Off to Tokyo in the morning! and
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)

 The Kyoto National Museum was our first stop after breakfast. Their permanent collection boasts a doable morning's worth of important works of Japanese art, ranging from archaeological artifacts from Japan's pre-history to paintings, sculpture, lacquerware, ceramics, textiles and swords. I got to see up close a number of historical textiles up close, including this one, which is an old favorite: The illustrated picture-scrolls were also great to see.

We walked into Gion for lunch at the Udon Museum: I had matcha udon served cold with a dipping sauce, rather like zaru soba as it had turned warm. Then we explored downtown, including a typical Japanese department store called Takashimaya. The ground floor food hall was pretty amazing: everything from pre-cooked to-go meals to beautifully sculpted sweets, to pickled vegetables and baked goods.

From there we found our way to the Nishiki Market shopping arcade. We stopped for afternoon tea, or at least what the Japanese perceive an English afternoon tea to be at Lipton's. I had a pancake with ice cream, chestnut paste, whipped cream and chocolate sauce, served with a pot of milk tea.

Thus fortified, we walked back to our neighborhood. Andy, Cori and I made a last stop at the Kyoto Handicraft Centre for gifts, then we met back at the house to walk over to Kodaiji Temple which lights up its grounds at night during the cherry blossom and fall foliage seasons.

It'll probably be even more spectacular in about a week. I managed to get at least a few photos, even though I'm still trying to learn how to do night shooting with Elaine's camera. Considering I wasn't using a tripod, I didn't do too badly.
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)

It will not surprise you that the Japanese have a god of rice, nor that Inari is also the patron of business. What may surprise you is that foxes are considered Inari's messenger.

We hopped a train to the outskirts of the city to Fushimi Inari, the chief shrine in the country to Inari. A repeated theme for a lot of these sites are streets that wind uphill towards the shrine (or temple), usually lined with souvenir shops or street vendors selling various refreshments. So it is at Fushimi, though at the early hour we started, most were not quite open or set up.

The shrine is renowned for its thousands of red torii gates, each donated by a sponsor (often a business). Tunnels of torii lead up the mountainside along winding trails to higher shrines. Andy, Cori and Josh opted to hike all the way up, while Ellen and I did a lower loop back to the first shrine. She and I headed back to Kyoto while the hikers did their thing.

Instead we took a shibori class! The Kyoto Shibori Museum offers a couple of make-and-take workshops and we learned out to create resist patterns by clamping wooden shapes against folded up silk. It's a fun technique, we got great results under Yoshiko-san's tutelage and I think I will be picking up a couple more C-clamps at the hardware store to experiment with in the future.
The proprietor also showed us their upstairs exhibits, which included a demonstration DVD, samples of in-progress pieces using various resist techniques, a roomful of stunning kimono, and recreations of famous artworks in shibori.

We met up with Andy, Cori and Josh at Kyoto Station, walked a few blocks to a curry joint for lunch. Japanese curry is a variant on the Indian kind, only generally pretty mild, served with rice and pretty much anything you care to add to it. Having had curry or curry-katsu two days in a row, I decided to have a salad instead.

We then walked across town to Kiyomizudera Temple. I think maybe it should be renamed Kiyomizoo, because it was one. The uphill approach was jammed with foot traffic and tour buses, and the place was bonkers. Kids on kimono dates, school groups, foreign tourists, the lot. To add to the pandemonium, half the place was under scaffolding and significant chunks of surrounding hillside look like stabilization efforts were in progress. Josh insists it's usually more serene than this.

I did, however, purchase a hand carved boxwood comb in a pretty case at a shop that specializes in them, as well as a miniature gourd from the hyotan man - his are supposed to bring good luck.  And we had a nice rest for hot drinks beneath the temple before heading back towards Higashiyama.

Yasaka Jinja shrine was lit up as we cut through on our way to Sanjo-dori. After a short break at the house, we found a great little yakitori joint just of Sanjo-dori. Hitoshi-san was a wonderful host and every bit of skewered meat that came down the bar was delicious.

I'm sitting here sipping a bit of umeshu on the rocks (plum wine) and will turn in shortly.
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)
An epic nap last night and lots of tea seems to have set me right for yesterday's adventures.
We were up early and on a rush-hour bus to Ryoanji. This Zen temple is famous for its "dry landscape" garden, so much so that it can get mobbed pretty quickly. We arrived early enough to snatch a few quiet moments on the veranda of the abbot's residence overlooking the sea of raked sand and stone islands before the clomping of sneakers announced the arrival of some Japanese high school students. The girls saw me sitting quietly with my camera and one approached offering a pink point-and-shoot. I took their picture as they all posed making the "V" peace sign, then I had to sign everyone's notebooks. (I tried getting one of them with mine, but it was so strongly backlit it wasn't worth keeping.)
At this point we moved on to explore the equally lovely landscape gardens. On our way to retrieve our shoes, another group of kids passed us. Josh asked them what school they went to, conversation with one of the girls ensued, and the next thing we knew we were posing with more kids and signing more autographs.
We caught another bus for Rokuonji, better known as Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion. This garish monstrosity was built by the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (the current building is a reconstruction as the original was burned down by a suicidal monk in the 1950s). Still, the gardens are lovely, particularly with the trees turning.
Another bus, another shogunal mansion: this time, the Ginkakuji - while not clad in silver, it is so named, probably so it pairs poetically with the other. Ashikaga Yoshimasa used it as a retreat where he dabbled in the arts while there was unrest in the streets of the city below. High on a hillside, the gardens, complete with a more ostentatious dry landscape, offer a commanding view of the city below.
We found lunch in a little place on the street below the Ginkakuji, then followed the "philosopher's path," a lovely shady walk along a canal, named for Kyoto University's Nishida Kitaro, who supposedly thought great thoughts there. Cherry blossom season must be a zoo, but it was very pleasant, with little shops and cafes tucked in between residences. We found a little place canalside selling vintage kimono. They had some great plaid ones, which were unlined and looked eminently suited to re-tailoring. Josh picked out two, I found one and we got a heavy discount. I think it came to under $10 each.
We also stumbled upon a small Shinto shrine just off the canal and up the hill. A little wild and overgrown, it featured all sorts of animal guardians, particularly mice. We finally came out at the bottom of the hill near the southern gate of Nanzen-ji.
It being Cori's birthday, we went out to a place where exquisitely cut pieces of raw beef in all its forms are brought to your table and you grill it yourself. Insanely good, probably because it was all well marbled, and well, fat tastes good. We walked back through town instead of taking a bus back, so that probably helped. Got some decent night shots in the huge arcade at Sanjo-dori (Third Avenue) and Teramachi-dori too!
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)

Got up to take an early train to Nara, a city about 30 miles south of Kyoto. Nara was Japan's capital from 710-784 CE (when the Emperor moved the capital to Kyoto), and it has a number of impressive shrines and temples dating from that period. The parklike environs of the eastern part of town are also heavily populated by Japanese Sika deer: a legendary guardian spirit of the then-new Capital descended from Heaven on the back of a white deer to protect the city. Vendors sell waferlike deer crackers for 150Y (about $1.50) a packet, so the deer are not only used to being fed by visitors but can be quite demanding about it. When I wasn't fast enough with a wafer, one grabbed at my pants' leg to hurry me up. They are smaller than North American white tail or mule deer.

Our first stop was Todaiji (Eastern Great Temple), the world's largest wooden structure, and home to the largest bronze Buddha as well. My camera was a bit challenged by the light conditions inside, but I did get a few photos. (Most active temples do not permit photos inside the Buddha Hall, but this one does. The building has been rebuilt twice after fires, so the current one was completed in 1709  - and it's 30% smaller than the original, but still impressive. (Yes, I'm cribbing stats from Wikipedia....)

From there, we wandered up through the Kasuga Taisha shrine complex, also dating from the 8th century. Set in a forested area on the slope leading up to the mountain, it's quite lovely - though there was a big wedding going on, so we didn't go inside. The massed ranks of stone lanterns have been donated over centuries by patrons of the shrine.

Josh, Ellen and I visited the treasure house, which contains armor and weapons belonging to famous personages and two massive taiko drums dating to the 13th century (no photos, unfortunately).

We found a place for lunch on a street behind the shrine at the base of the mountain. I also bought some calligraphy supplies from a shop there, then we circled back down past the shrine. Ellen needed a break. so she sat and had some tea while we went on to Kofukuji, once the family temple of the powerful Fujiwara family. The pagoda is extremely impressive and even larger than the one at Toji in Kyoto.

As you can see from the photos, one of the temple halls is undergoing reconstruction. We've encountered this at several sites: the building is enclosed in a giant pole building so they can work in all weather. There are even some shrines and temples where it is the practice to completely rebuild on a regular cycle!

We collected Ellen where we'd left her, at an outdoor tea vendor in the temple's shadow, refreshed ourselves with bottles of Raimune (it's basically a lemon-lime soda like 7Up). We headed back down into town, detouring through a shopping arcade on our way to our ryokan. Hakushikasou is just a couple blocks from the train station. We had a large traditional room to share. Ellen and I went swanning off to the women's baths in our loaner yukata. The entire room is a "wet zone" with drains in the floor and stations where you can sit or stand and scrub off with soap, shampoo, etc. BEFORE you enter the tub and turn into a limp noodle from the delightful warmth.

After, dinner was served on trays in our room. It was a huge feast - and I found I wasn't hungry and just sort of picked at it.

Our hosts came to clear trays and lay out our futons, and then we all went to bed.

Breakfast was in a dining room downstairs. Josh, Ellen and I opted for the Japanese breakfast, while Cori and Andy went with the so-called Western breakfast. Rice porridge, smoked salmon, pickles, vegetables, miso soup. I had more of an appetite than the night before, but still couldn't finish. And I had a slightly scratchy throat....

Off to the Nara National Museum for the annual showing of selected treasures from the Shosoin Repository. Back in the 700s when the Emperor died, the Empress donated his possessions to a temple repository. I saw clothing, weapons, a lute-like musical instrument, bronze mirrors, a pair of the Emperor's shoes. I invested in the exhibition catalog, plus back issues of several catalogues from previous years. My suitcase isn't going to make weight at this rate!

We stopped for lunch at an okonomiyaki joint in that shopping arcade downtown. I decided to have an attack of common sense. I was tired, footsore and not feeling great, so I got a train back to Kyoto before the others and snatched some down-time for myself. I napped the rest of the afternoon, sent the gang off to dinner without me while I had tea and toast and monitored the laundry. I'm hoping to be feeling better in the morning.
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)

Good morning from the futon! We're off to catch the train to Nara this morning.

Yesterday, I got to try the wares of a "panya" or bakery for breakfast. I had an interesting, delightful thing that was a combination of flaky pastry, red beans and powdered sugar. A "clam chowder bun" was sort of a danish with bits of clam, tomato and cheese on top. (I have yet to have had a bad meal in this country!)

We visited Nijo, the Shogun's palace. No interior photos, but the interior features doors and walls covered with paintings by artists of the Kano school: gold backgrounds with scenes of trees, birds, animals, covering sliding doors which can enlarge or enclose a space.

Many are undergoing restoration, but it's an impressive place even with some covered up or missing. The corridors feature "nightingale floors":which are built to deliberately squeak as one walks on them, thus giving warning of intruders. With a herd of tourists going through, they're constantly cheeping. shows how they're constructed.

The extensive gardens made a nice stroll. I imagine it's spectacular in the spring when many of the trees are in bloom.

From Nijo-jo, we hiked to the shrine of Abe no Seimei. The easiest analogy I can make for you is that he's a Japanese "Merlin." In reality, he was one of the court diviners, the people who put together almanacs of the lunar calendar and so forth, but there are many stories of Seimei's ability to know things, lay evil spirits, reverse spells and that sort of thing. The little shrine includes a side shrine to Seimei's mother, reputed to be a fox spirit (more on these when we go to Fushimi Inari).

Nishijin is the part of the city where the textile industry is based. Though much smaller nowadays, it's still where beautifully woven silks and brocades can be found. The Nishijin Textile Center features kimono fashion shows, demonstrations of weaving, and a shop that ranges from cheap tourist wares to high-end reproductions of historical textiles. I bought a couple meters' worth of brocade that I'll make into something I can wear. At $40/meter, I was hyperventilating a bit, but so worth it.

We had lunch at one of those conveyor-belt sushi places. You can pick dishes off the line as you see things you like, then return the plate through a slot in the table. A computer keeps tally of how many plates and you're charged 100Y per plate. That's about $1 for two pieces of sushi - and it was pretty good sushi too,

Andy needed down time, so we split up - he, Ellen and Cori headed back to the house, while Josh took me on the subway out near Nishi Honganji to the Costume Museum.

On the way, we happened to pass this little shrine and I glanced through the gate. "Kemari!" I cried, so we went in. It turns out that Shiramine Jingu, where two emperors are enshrined, It's also devoted to Seidaimyojin, a deity associated with sport, particularly this ancient cross between soccer and hacky-sack. We happened to walk past during a practice and the players appeared to be working on kicking the balls to their partners. The object of the game is to try to keep the ball in the air.

The website for the Costume Museum place has been extremely useful over the years as it features mannequins in historical dress from the various eras of Japanese history, with detailed schematic drawings identifying garments and styles.

In actuality, it's in this odd little side street in the district between the two big temples. and the proprietor also runs a business that manufactures and sells vestments and furnishings to temples. It looks like a nondescript little office building. You go up an elevator which opens onto their model of the Rokujo Palace, illustrating scenes from The Tale of Genji with beautifully costumed dolls. They've also added a smaller one with a scene from The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, with the dolls in Nara period dress. If you're expecting a full display of all the costumes from the website, you won't find it, though I'm sure all those costumes are stored onsite somewhere. However, there is a room where you can examine some typical male and female Heian garments and even try them on.

The lady attending the museum let Josh and me paw through the dress-up items and take detail photos of seam treatments, attachment points and other construction details to our hearts' content. A group of Japanese ladies came in to get pictures in one of the robes while posing with the male mannequin. I showed them pictures of the group photo from my Laurel ceremony with Josh and me in Heian clothing - it's the one where my sleeves are mortifyingly Not Right too - but they all thought it was pretty cool.

I definitely need to fix that - and now I have a better idea how they managed the false layering so I actually CAN. I was like a kid in a toy shop!

We walked back down to meet up with everyone at Kyoto Station for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. I needed comfort food - we've been averaging about 10 miles a day on foot if smartphone pedometers are to be believed. I had a crab omelette with snow peas and green onions and it really hit the spot. We also split a number of dishes, including a sweet and sour pork that was more vinegary and less sweet than the sort of thing we get back home. Yummy stuff.
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)
gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)

I went out early yesterday and shot some sights of the neighborhood, including the little temple on the other side of the alley wall, and the little stream that runs under Sanjo-dori on the way to the subway.

If you take the Tozei line as far west as it goes, you can pick up the Randen tram line, which wends its way through the suburbs towards Arashiyama. In a concession to the fact that not every day needs to be shrinetempleshrinetemplemuseum, we hit the Toei Studios theme park, where I came to the conclusion that I am too damn old and cranky to be a ninja. Seriously: the guides through the Ninja Mystery House were about as threatening as Mousketeers as they encouraged us in chirpy, rapidfire Japanese (with Josh translating), to find all the secret passages through the house. Cheesy, commercial, and happy to take your yen for refreshments and souvenirs, but they do still shoot movies and tv shows in parts of the park and there was a section cordoned off with a shoot going on while we were there. And that's cheesy in a good way.

We hopped back on the Randen and took it to the end of the line in beautiful Arashiyama. (Storm Mountain), along the Oi River. You exit the tram into the prettiest transit station ever, decorated with a "kimono forest" of beautifully patterned tubes that light at night, and lined with neat little shops selling sweets and snacks. A tourist destination since the Heian period, the Oi river valley is surrounded on all sides by wooded mountains just starting to get their fall color.

As you exit the station through crowds of holiday goers, you will be frequently greeted by photogenic men in skintight shirts, short shorts and tabi waving brochures with big smiles, inviting you to see Arashiyama by rickshaw. The occupation necessitates fitness and I saw these guys loping up and down the street with passengers all day. (Rent or stream "The Rickshaw Man" with Toshiro Mifune some time! It's a charmer.)

We found a place by the Togetsukyo Bridge for lunch. Mine was paper thin slices of white pork and a raw egg in broth with tender soba noodles. Stir the egg into the broth and it gets very rich and hearty. Washed down with a small glass of Asahi Super Dry.

That set us up well for the next adventure. We took a trail up past a little Shinto shrine guarded by a handsome bobtail cat and up to the Iwatayama Monkey Park. The semi-paved trail climbs 160 meters (about 525 feet) through the trees. Just when you need to catch your breath, there is an inevitable Monkey Quiz signboard with questions about the life and habits of the Japanese macaques that live on the mountainside. There's a troop of about 130 or so of these beautiful animals, all given individual names by the park staff, and they are quite fearless about sharing the mountain with tourists. When you reach the top of the hill, you are rewarded with a sweeping view of Kyoto spread out to the east. Attendants were breaking up aggressive monkey squalls, from time to time, it being breeding season right now.  You can enter the hut and buy 100 yen bags of peanuts or apple chunks and feed the monkeys from inside. This works brilliantly - the monkeys know to expect food from people inside the wire. Since they don't get handouts from visitors outside the hut, they know not to accost  you there.

I developed a two-handed feeding strategy so I could assuage more aggressive, larger monkeys while still getting pieces of apple into the hands of the littler ones. And I have to confess I felt a thrill as those little hands took apples from my palm. It's hard to describe.

Fortified by cooling breezes on the hike back down, and a cone of soft serve ice cream ("softu" is a big thing here and so far I've had green tea, hochicha (roasted brown tea) and mango flavors), we crossed the river to climb to a lovely spot overlooking the Oi river gorge, wended our way through an impressive and beautiful bamboo grove, then finished up with the lovely gardens at Tenryuji.

We split up to browse some of the shops (I was good and only bought post-cards), then met back in front of the Randen station to use the foot spa. This is a real thing! You pay 200 yen for a towel at the information center, then walk along the tram platform until you get to a communal pool where you can soak your tired feet in soothingly hot water.

Dinner at "Randon" above the station, a donburi place (stuff over rice). Mine was salmon sashimi, salmon roe, nori and some sort of green, clovery looking plant. Yum.

Then back to Kyoto by Randen, subway and our tired feet.

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