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Day 3: Sponge Cake on Your Sushi (not a Peter Combe song)

Today I learnt some things:

a) I am a control freak

b) er, a) pretty much covers it.

I didn’t actually realise anything was amiss until we were a couple of meters into the foodhall of the department store Isetan, and special k looked over at me with concern and amused sympathy and told me it was ok to not be perfect and just to be lost.

This foodhall is….crazy. I’ve never seen or been anywhere like it. There were beautifully sculpted sweets, sashimi and fruit combos of all sorts, dumplings being scooped and twisted and five perfect lettuce leaves sitting inside a plastic container in a bed of styrofoam.

It was incredible, but it was hard to enjoy in the face of how uncomfortable I was. It all looked quite normal, and I felt like I could understand where I was/what it was, but there was just something I couldn’t get a handle on. There was one (or a hundred) too many unfamiliar things. Or just things full stop.

For example, here’s Shinjuku, the part of town we were wandering about in. The unfair thing about this photo is that it doesn’t look hot. It was.

So. I like to be in control, and I’ve never understood this about myself as clearly as I did today.

Oh yeah, and we ate sushi with sponge cake around it.

Day 2

Day 1

Day 2: My Heart Throbbing With Desire

I dunno, would you get that on a t-shirt in an English speaking country? I think it’s the word “throbbing” that crosses the line (and as someone who writes romance, my tolerance for the word is higher than most).

Breakfast this morning was not an easy task.

First we ate chocolate covered almonds in bed, because we were too snuggly to go out for anything. We finally left for Bear Pond Espresso and thought it made sense to just wait and have food there.

Unfortunately, there was much less to be smug about in our transport navigation this morning.

But the time we’d walked about 3k trying to find the right train line in Shinjuku Station we were far too hot, confused, and hungry. And hot.

We walked past some fresh fruit and special k stopped me, deciding that what I needed was a peach. He was right, too. Did I mention that Tokyo is hot right now? (In the climatic sense.)

So he went to the vendor, made the transaction, and I watched with growing trepidation as the fruit was hastily taken from his clumsy hands, wrapped in styrofoam then bubble-wrap, packed into a floral box then tucked into a bag. Special k walked back somewhat stunned and red in the face and said:

“I think I just bought some really expensive peaches…”

“How much?”

“2,100?”

I tell you what though, that $13 peach sure was delicious. And speaking of weird Japanese fruit:

We found Bear Pond with its yum cold coffee, but alas no food aside from some unidentifiable donuts. Still not quite sure what flavour they were.

The Bear Pond chaps finally pointed us to a fish place where we ate this:

ah, heaven.

Followed shortly thereafter by its opposite. We walked around Shibuya with the sun bashing against us, trying to shove us into the pavement. My navigation skills are evidently not what they could be. And to be in Shibuya of all places, where everything is lit up and moves and music blares out into the public spaces – not ideal.

We finally found Shibuya 109 and it truly was like descending into a kind of hell. It was lit with a bright, almost orange cast to it, packed in every possible way with streams of yapping devil-girls. (Hey, it had been a long day. And the sensory overload is hard to fully express.)

We went home at that point.

Day 1

Day 1: Birthu-pulaysu of Astro Boy or: Help! I Can’t Stop Adding U’s to Everything I Say!

Japan looks different from the sky to anywhere else I’ve ever been. Flying in to Tokyo we came within touching distance of these lumps of forest. I don’t really know how else to describe them. They looked like the heads of broccoli: dense, impenetrable and very, very green.

Very Miyazaki.

A-ha. We are in Japan.

I’m rather smug because we navigated the train system like pros, rubbing our very tired eyes in case we were just imagining all the white shirts. Seriously, it’s like one of those kids books where the tops and bottoms of animals/people have been separated so that you have to flip the two halves until you match them up right. Only someone made a mistake and every top is white, no tie, rolled up sleeves.

The Astro Boy theme tune blared out when we arrived at the station. The charming little lad was born here in Takadanobaba, where we’re be staying. (Apparently the locals call it ‘Baba, but I wouldn’t dare.)

Walking out onto the neon street was pretty exciting. I tend to try and be very worldly when I travel, you know, nothing could surprise me in the least. But I just gave in to the daggy grin on my face, because I had just emerged into Jap-furickingu-pan!

Tama Ryokan (a ryokan is like a family inn – they fix up some rooms in their house and let it out) where we’re staying is kind of perfect. It’s got wood frames, paper doors and little vases with clippings of ivy in the oddest places. Eiko, our hostess, was born here.

She was very nice, showing us how everything worked at least 5 times (I do not exaggerate, she is a master of rote learning) in case her English/our thick heads got in the way. By the tenth time she had wiped her mouth with a wet cloth Ken was starting to wonder if she was OCD, but I just put it down to her being Japanese.

I should note here that because this trip is first and foremost a holiday, to which being in Japan comes decidedly second, I have excused myself from being a sensitive traveller. I am not here, I have decided, to understand Japanese culture/compliment the Japanese people by my exulted presence in their company/pretend I’m not a tourist.

What I’m saying is: bring on the generalisations! And it’s quite possible I might have some racist days (the only thing that kept me sane when I lived in Berlin. Nothing vents feelings of isolation quite so well as allowing oneself a whole day to blame those feelings on everything but oneself.). I will also probably visit scandalously few museums and other cultural icons.

Anyway, my tummy is full of ramen, and the lights are out, making our little room feel like nothing so much as a sophisticated tent.

woman’s prerogative?

so chaps, here I am, changing my mind.

What was I thinking? Who wants to read about my trip to Japan after I come back home? I tell you what, in this digital age, nothing’s of any importance unless it’s happening right now!

(Like, for example, you can’t really get away with calling it the “digital age” unless you’re being faintly ironic, because that’s so not current anymore. “Digital age” aged on its way from what’s actually happening to being what’s really happening according to what someone wrote. I digress.)

I’ve been writing my posts as I go anyway, so will begin posting them now. Wasn’t sure we would have internet, we do.

The one fly in the ointment/cockroach in the sushi is that I didn’t bring my camera lead, and thus can’t upload photos till I get home. (Er, you’re in Japan, I hear you say. Can’t you just buy a new lead? It’s worth some thought, I reply, cursing myself for my stupidity.)

So here goes…

the letter generation: Part l

I’ve just been rifling through my old journals and letters as I like to do occasionally, and the things I’ve found hurt my heart and make me infinitely grateful I managed to not be gen Y. We started emailing in highschool, I guess, but letters predominated. Hundreds, thousands of letters from the breaking, devastated heart to the boredom of English Lit.

If these had been emails they would be gone by now, I suppose.

There are many, many letters from the boyfriend I had when I was 16. Not as romantic as I remember – more long, annotated lists of mixed tape playlists. Also:

I hope you aren’t TOO angry at me, but I showed part of your letter to my best friend “Nick”. He’s sort of an analyst and he was pissed off that you wrote nothing’s serious at 16. He said “16 is the most serious age!!! Nothing is more serious!”

Wherever you are, “Nick”, if that’s even your real name, I AGREE! A woman ten years older than me was the one who planted the idea that I was only 16 and shouldn’t take our relationship drama too seriously. For anyone out there dispensing advice for same, heed our analyst “Nick”. I think his vehement defence of teens everywhere proves that there’s nothing “sort-of” about him.

adventures in a(nother) country town

this time I’m in Ballan, Victoria, with my brother and his two kids. In the way of country towns, this name is not pronounced the way you’re saying it in your head – the locals pronounce it to rhyme with Milan, as though it were exotic somehow.

Maybe it is…

All I’m saying is, there are cows.

This morning we went to visit the mineral springs at Daylesford. I’ve never drunk real spring water before, and I tell you what, it’s zingy. Until you get to the really sulphurous stuff and then it bypasses zingy and goes straight for a battery-on-the-tongue effect.

After that we ventured into the old bathhouse cafe – a beautiful, dilapidated building with cold tile floors. We arrived on the tail end of a government function and scored free scones with jam and cream, which we scoffed down sitting in front of the fire.

Then Ella and Benji climbed the walls.

We drove through a cloud to arrive back at the little brick box of a farm house and now the kids are off to sleep for the afternoon, but first I need to read Benji the next few chapters of The BFG.

That’s all for now, no moral or thoughts or anything!

Oh, and good news from the frontier: my niece appears to have forgotten that she hates me.

Mozart, I love you for this

I’m not exactly musically educated. I love to sing and I sing what’s put in front of me, but when the other members of my choir say “This is really interesting, for Mozart,” I simply have to believe them.

The song is No. 8 (from the Requiem) Domine Jesu, and it’s apparently the kind of stuff he was beginning to write when he died, making his death more tragic than it otherwise might have been. A bit like Heath Ledger, I guess, dying just as he was getting really interesting in his art.

The song is also beautiful. Amazing to sing. Here it is (like us, if we had a big hall, an orchestra and bad 80s hairdos):

is romance soft porn and does it really matter?

I realised I don’t really buy into this debate much because I feel like I’m not educated enough about porn. Like is it pro- or anti-feminist these days? Is it exploitative or empowering?

But I think that not knowing what academics and politicians and other vocal, public people have to say is a really bad reason not to figure out what I think.

Firstly, I haven’t looked at much traditional porn in my life, but I’ll admit that the few times I did it kinda turned me on. And if they weren’t terrifyingly seedy I would probably go to an x-rated cinema in the middle of the day one time all by myself to satisfy my curiosity. But I guess aside from having a mildly benevolent outlook, that kind of porn doesn’t really interest me.

As far as I can tell, most of the problems people have with that kind of porn is the exploitation/objectifying of women. And maybe further down the list (much further down) comes an unease about feeding purely physical sexual desire.

When people call romance novels soft porn, their problem seems to come from the idea that women sitting and enjoying (often graphic) sex in the privacy of their own brains is somehow wrong/distasteful/degrading/unnatural, maybe even scary? No one’s being exploited here, as far as I can tell.

I’m really curious – does it matter if someone enjoys a sexual fantasy?

Personally, I love skin and boobs and bums and all the other lovely, fleshy bits of the body. I think desire is healthy, and romance novels promote a healthy, adventurous, brave relationship to desire that is rarely voiced elsewhere.

(For those of you who’ve never picked up a romance novel, the non-consensual quasi-rape thing really isn’t in fashion anymore. I don’t think it has been since the 80s.)

I love the idea that, thanks to the more than 200 years of women who stood up for all women, I have a real say in my sexuality. I also find the idea that I can be a woman to my husband’s man disarming and wonderful.

What I don’t like is that it’s hard for me to say that, for fear that I’ll sound unempowered, unemancipated. Like I’m undoing all the work of all those women.

I think romance novels these days are exploring that fine line between being sexually powerful and acknowledging what fantasies are made of.

communication

this post is about Landmark Education, which could be quite controversial. If you google it you get as many people calling it a brainwashing cult as you get testimonials that it changed someone’s life.

Tonight I signed up for the communication courses, the first of which I do in August, so for the curious and undecided, there’ll be progress updates then!

I’ve done a lot of the curriculum, and found it positive and most of all incredibly useful. I feel like some of the times I was most alive, most effective in my life, and most deeply connected and driven have been during Landmark courses.

I sometimes look back on conversations I had in full Landmark throttle, and oh how I wish I could take them back. Like the time I gathered all my very practical cousins so that we could share what being family means. And then I think: Looking back on my life when I’m 80, with the certainty that I’ll die soon and this life won’t exist any more, I’d much rather have given it a shot.

I also think the two biggest transformational moments of my life happened outside of Landmark.

The first was when special k hit rock bottom three months into our relationship and said: I’m not playing games anymore. What are you doing?

The second was when we got engaged and I’d jumped over that line with both feet and couldn’t take it back. I seriously didn’t think I had commitment issues until that moment. Ha.

It takes something pretty extraordinary to make us actually re-evaluate and begin the painful process of change. I don’t think it happens nearly as often as we think it does.

conscience off, dick on: true blood is back

I just finished watching the first episode of season three and I’m so happy this show‘s back. I love the whole concept of a racist south being the backdrop for the introduction of a whole new species into society.

Er, that species being vampires, for anyone who hasn’t quite caught up yet.

Special k watched about ten minutes with me and then snorted, shook his head and generally made his disgust known. He thinks it’s total trash.

I also watched the pilot episode of The Sopranos today and it occurs to me that The Sopranos is literary tv to the trashy romance of True Blood.

Though, to be fair, special k was very Sam Vimes about it, and was equally disdainful of both.