Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Craig's Lisp (Updated)

(Image Credit: Tom Toles, Washington Post)

Moose gave me the title for this post, but she wants me to explain that she does not endorse the homophobic, effeminophobic stereotype of gay men as "lisping." She is only using it to add to the public humiliation (among those who do endorse such stereotypes) of Idaho's Republican Senator Larry Craig, who, it was revealed this week, has plead guilty to charges of disorderly conduct stemming from an incident involving an undercover police officer in an airport restroom in Minneapolis in June. Moose, who is incapable of resisting a good joke, thinks "Craig's lisp" is a funny way to mock the latest example of sexual hypocrisy among Republicans, who deserve everything they get for reducing American civic discourse to a pathological "focus on the family," with an accompanying mania for (other people's) sexual purity.

Their sexual transgressions matter because they are the ones who decided that private sexual conduct and the "sanctity" of "traditional" marriage mattered more than, say, the ethics of torture or of launching preemptive wars against sovereign nations in making judgments about political candidates or parties. Moose is tired of the politics of mass distraction. She's sick to death of living in a culture that worries more about the fate of frozen stem cells than about the fate of the unfreezing planet. Moose could care less what Larry Craig did in a bathroom in June (though she is curious to know what his hand-under-the-partition gesture is supposed to mean -- in women's restrooms, it just means, "Hey, any toilet paper over there?"). Moose's major political concerns may be simply stated, and they have nothing to do with the etiquette of one senator's bathroom behavior:
  • Who will save the planet?
  • How do we get the hell out of this war?
  • How do we live with what we've allowed not to be done in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina?
  • How much freedom are we willing to sacrifice to the cause of "security"?
Nonetheless: Craig's Lisp.
  • He was a member of the "Singing Senators," along with John Ashcroft, Trent Lott, and Jim Jeffords. If being in a barbershop quartet is not prima facie evidence of total fag-dom, Moose doesn't know what is. (Editorial aside: Gosh, I hope your irony meters are working today.)
  • His voice is kind of high-pitched. Take a listen to one of his many denials of his gayness, his cruising, his (homo)sexual guilt. Here's a good example, from the Idaho Statesman, the paper that reluctantly broke the story once Craig had plead guilty.
  • His opening line of his statement yesterday denying his gayness, his cruising, and his (homo)sexual guilt was, and we quote, "Thank you all very much for coming out today." Props to Wa Po reporter Dana Millbank for noticing that delicious detail in his "Washington Sketch" on Craig.
  • What's up with the toe-tapping? Is it really, as Craig's arrest report says, a "signal often used by persons communicating a desire to engage in sexual conduct?" Please, if you know anything about this, enlighten us in Comments. Otherwise, Moose is likely to sit through her next meeting on Learning Outcomes Assessments with her toe tapping like crazy, which, where she comes from, means, "I am bored senseless and trying desperately to stay awake."
For complete coverage of Senator Craig's predicament from his home-state paper, go here. For the police report on Craig's arrest, go visit the good guys at The Smoking Gun.

We could go on for days on this crazy subject, kids, but Moose has to teach tomorrow. It is really, truly, finally time for her to finish up that syllabus.

Tap your toe if you love us, children. Tap twice if you want us. And if you just need toilet paper, knock three times on the partition that so tragically separates us from one another. Peace out.

Update: We are apparently not alone in being reminded of Tony Orlando and Dawn's smash hit of 1971 as we reflect upon Senator Craig and Potty-gate. Watch this. You'll love us for bringing it to your attention:

Monday, August 27, 2007

Another One Bites the Dust

And another one gone, and another one gone. . . .

It's Monday morning, and all over America lovers of justice are doing a happy dance.

(Photo Credit: Doug Mills, New York Times

Update: Some Reactions to the Gonzales Resignation
  • Slate speculates on possible replacements here, including the "we're on crack" choice, U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald;
  • John Dickerson also has a piece in Slate on Bush's loyalty to his incompetents, "All the President's Flunkies";
  • Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen consider the strategery of Gonzales's resignation in Politico;
  • Ruth Marcus draws an apt comparison between Gonzales and Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" in Wa Po. The English profs here in Roxie's World approve the analogy, saying Gonzales consistently put his own "preferences" before the needs of the country and the responsibilities of the department he (badly) ran;
  • Andrew Cohen pulls no punches in his good riddance to Gonzales in Wa Po.

    From The New York Times Web site this morning:

    August 27, 2007
    Embattled Attorney General Resigns

    WACO, Tex., Aug. 27 — Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, whose tenure has been marred by controversy and accusations of perjury before Congress, has resigned. A senior administration official said he would announce the decision later this morning in Washington.

    Mr. Gonzales, who had rebuffed calls for his resignation, submitted his to President Bush by telephone on Friday, the official said. His decision was not immediately announced, the official added, until after the president invited him and his wife to lunch at his ranch near here.

    Mr. Bush has not yet chosen a replacement but will not leave the position open long, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the resignation had not yet been made public.

    Mr. Bush had repeatedly stood by Mr. Gonzales, an old friend and colleague from Texas, even as Mr. Gonzales faced increasing scrutiny for his leadership of the Justice Department, over issues including his role in the dismissals of nine United States attorneys late last year and whether he testified truthfully about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.

    Earlier this month, at a news conference, Mr. Bush dismissed accusations that Mr. Gonzales had stonewalled or misled a congressional inquiry. “We’re watching a political exercise,” Mr. Bush said. “I mean, this is a man who has testified, he’s sent thousands of papers up there. There’s no proof of wrong.”

    Mr. Gonzales’s resignation is the latest in a series of high-level departures that has reshaped the end of Mr. Bush’s second term. Karl Rove, another of Mr. Bush’s close circle of aides from Texas, stepped down two weeks ago.

    The official who disclosed the resignation today said that the decision was Mr. Gonzales’s and that the president accepted it grudgingly. At the same time, the official acknowledged that the turmoil over Mr. Gonzales had made his continuing as attorney general difficult.

    “The unfair treatment that he’s been on the receiving end of has been a distraction for the department,” the official said.

    As recently as Sunday afternoon, Mr. Gonzales was denying through his press spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse, that he intended to leave.

    Mr. Roehrkasse said Sunday afternoon that he had telephoned Mr. Gonzales about the reports circulating in Washington that a resignation was imminent, “and he said it wasn’t true, so I don’t know what more I can say.”

    White House spokesmen also insisted on Sunday that they did not believe that Mr. Gonzales was planning to resign. Aides to senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee said over the weekend that they had received no suggestion from the administration that Mr. Gonzales intended to resign.

    Senator Charles Schumer, the New York Democrat who sits on the committee and has been calling for Mr. Gonzales’s resignation for months, said this morning: “It has been a long and difficult struggle, but at last the attorney general has done the right thing and stepped down. For the previous six months, the Justice Department has been virtually nonfunctional, and desperately needs new leadership.”

    Senator Schumer said that “Democrats will not obstruct or impede a nominee who we are confident will put the rule of law above political considerations.”

    Philip Shenon contributed reporting.

    Here, kids -- Let Freddie and the gang help you with your happy dancing. Go on. Close the office door. Crank up the volume. Look sharp when you sing it:

Saturday, August 25, 2007


(Image Credit: Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

It's too hot to endorse Hillary Clinton today, kids. It's even too hot to get hot and bothered over Clinton's suggestion that terrorism could still be an advantage to Republican candidates in the upcoming election. (You can see the video of Clinton's fairly innocuous remark here.)

I suppose I could crank up some righteous indignation on the evil Karl Rove taking a pot shot at presidential terrier Barney on his way out the door, calling the poor little guy "a lump" who many people see as "aloof and entitled," according to NYT. Boy, if that's not the pot calling the kettle black! White House spokesperson Dana Perino came to Barney's defense on NPR's quiz show, Wait Wait. . .Don't Tell Me! according to Wa Po, but the defense strikes me as half-hearted. "Look," Perino is reported to have said, "Barney is kind of standoffish, but he's got personality. He's got a little bit of sass. You know, I don't think -- he doesn't let people get too close to him." With friends like that, Barney might as well be, you know, the prime minister of Iraq or something. If I lived in the White House with this crew of nincompoops and meanies, I think I'd be a little standoffish, too. Call me, Barney. I'm here for you.

Should we give a paws up to the National Football League for suspending quarterback Michael Vick "indefinitely" after he pleaded guilty to being involved in an illegal dogfighting venture? Nah. The league did what it had to do in the face of a public relations disaster, but is clearly keeping the door open to Vick returning to the game at some point in the future. Wa Po sports columnist Michael Wilbon says today he's okay with that, as long as Vick "pays his debt to society," though Wilbon completely condemns Vick's actions and his failure thus far to accept responsibility for them. Roxie's World doesn't think Vick should ever be allowed back in professional sports, despite the fact that football is mostly just a more refined version of dogfighting, without the guns and drownings, mostly.

It's so hot here in Roxie's World that my fish have burrowed deep into the mud on the bottom of our pond and are nowhere to be seen. It's so hot that a tired old dog doesn't want her four paws to touch the scorching surface of the observation deck that looks out over our ridiculously large back yard. It's so hot that Goose has taken a shower and Moose is sitting in a chair with her eyes closed, dreamily recalling a swimming pool high in the sky over a beautiful city thousands of miles away. She summons up an image of the body slicing through water and of the mind going quiet and still. The image is a respite from the "hot misblotted sunlight, critical light" of a brutal August afternoon.

Moose smiles. I nap beside her on the cool wood floor. The world beyond Roxie's World will have to fend for itself today.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Just Sayin'

No time for devastatingly insightful commentary today, kids. My typist has a 10 o'clock meeting on campus and is still in her nightgown, but here's a little something to watch and contemplate as you ask yourselves the burning question: When the heck is Roxie's World going to stop pretending that it's still "neutral" in the Democratic primary race and make its endorsement already? Patience, children, patience. You know such a move will require a series of high-level meetings involving the creative division, the political team, and the geeks over in Clicks and Eyeballs. Plus, my typist still has that syllabus to finish. Cool your jets. Watch this video. And let us know if you think Michelle Obama was making a swipe at Hillary when she said recently, "If you can't run your own house, you can't run the White House."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I Heart Andy Kohut

(Photo Credit: University of Puget Sound Science Center)

Look out, sweet children of the left. The pendulum is swinging back in your direction. Oh, happy day! The times, they are a-changin'! The zeitgeist, it is a-shftin'. War will end! Health care will be universal! The oil industry won't be in charge of energy policy! The flat-earthers won't be in charge of education policy! We'll un-shred the Constitution and re-build that beautiful wall between Church and State. Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with the long exile of the Republican party from the corridors of power in the United States.

What, you may be wondering, provokes this gleeful outpouring of optimism from your usually measured dog blogger? Aside from the thrill of knowing that Karl Rove will soon be leaving the neighborhood, Moose and I have been feeling pretty giddy since we read a fabulous analysis of polling data by Andrew Kohut and Carroll Doherty of the Pew Research Center that ran in Wa Po's "Outlook" section on Sunday. (The article is here. Access the full Pew report, which was released in March, here.) Kohut is on our very short list of Favorite Numbers Nerds. The guys in Clicks and Eyeballs all have posters of him on the walls of their cubicles here in Roxie's World. Whenever he appears on The NewsHour, Moose and Goose put down their martinis, briefly, and listen with rapt attention as he carefully explains the deep implications of his latest numbers. They thrill to his every word -- and his latest word is very, very bad for Republicans and very, very promising for Democrats, assuming Dems can seize the opportunities implied by Andy's numbers.

Message to Democrats: Listen to Andy Kohut. Study Andy's numbers. Andy is smarter than you are, smarter than Karl Rove, smarter than Mark Penn and the Democratic Losership Council. The ground has shifted. Voters want an efficient government that is responsive to real needs and the greater good, not one that is held hostage by corporate interests and a narrow, theocratic agenda.

Listen to Andy (and Carroll):
Here's something Democrats can really take heart from: Public support for more government aid to the poor and needy is back. The percentage of those who say that "it is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can't take care of themselves" has gone up 12 points since 1994, the pivotal year when Republicans took control of Congress with their promises of a "Contract With America." Support for more government involvement in dealing with social problems is on the upswing overall.

More Americans now subscribe to the sentiment that "the rich get richer while the poor get poorer." Seventy-three percent concur with that statement today, up from 65 percent five years ago. A nationwide Pew survey last month found that 48 percent of the public sees American society as divided between "haves" and "have nots," with as many as a third describing themselves as "have nots." Both measures are substantially higher than in the late 1990s.

At the same time, many of the key social trends that nurtured the Republican resurgence in the mid-1990s are cooling. Support for traditional values on social issues such as homosexuality or the role of women has edged downward since 1994. There has been a downturn in the percentage endorsing "old-fashioned values about family and marriage," from percentages in the mid-80s in the past to 76 percent in the latest study.

There's even some evidence of a small shift away from religion and toward a more secular identification:
Another bad sign for Republicans, the party of staunch religious values: Most Americans remain religious, but the number expressing strong beliefs has dropped since the mid-1990s. The percentage that says it "completely agrees" that "prayer is an important part of my life" jumped from 41 percent to a high of 55 percent in 1999. It's now down to 45 percent. We also found small but perceptible growth over the past two decades in the numbers who identify themselves as secular -- from 8 percent in 1987 to 12 percent today. Most of that growth is among young people.
The numbers on foreign policy and defense also look good for Democrats, as they indicate declining support for an activist foreign policy and for assertions of military strength as the best way to ensure peace.

Perhaps most important for Democrats is the suggestion that the trend that was established in the 2006 election of independents moving left may be holding:
Today, independents are much more in sync with Democrats than with Republicans on both domestic and international issues. One example: We see a striking increase in independents' support for more government help for the needy, even if it means going deeper into debt. Fully 57 percent of independents endorse this idea today; in 1994, just 39 percent did.
That high-pitched sound you hear is the sound of a million Republican operatives crying over their communion wine. In a May debate, three of the ten declared Republican candidates indicated they did not believe in evolution. Most of them are vigorously anti-choice and would support a constitutional amendment making gays and lesbians second-class citizens. Most are closely tied to Bush's foreign and military policies and boast of their commitments to a "muscular" America asserting its power in the world. The country has shifted to the left, and they are standing out in right field preaching to an increasingly hysterical and shrinking group of fans.

Grab that pendulum and hold on for dear life, Dems. It's finally swinging your way.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Rug Rats

(Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures; Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in, of course, Mommie Dearest)

Hell hath no fury like an English prof in mid-August avoiding the task of syllabus design. Especially when said prof is battling jetlag, hormonal imbalance, and what I am about to designate as post-Park Hyatt Tokyo stress disorder. Suddenly, our house, which many people think is pretty and which the moms had re-built from the ground up a few years ago, is a den of filth and deficiency in Moose’s eyes. “What a dump!” I can almost hear her muttering as she storms from room to room, dragging the vacuum behind her.

Mind you, this all started before she saw the mouse on the stairs Monday night. Now that was a moment of high hilarity, I assure you. Your favorite dog-blogger stood back and stared as her big strong moms morphed from Thelma and Louise to Lucy and Ethel right before my very eyes. “Eek! Eek! Eek! A MOUSE!” they shrieked, as if it were news to anyone. Then, since neither Ricky nor Fred appeared to rescue them from their plight, they raced around the house in search of tools appropriate for capturing and killing a mouse. (Yes, it's true -- The moms are emphatically pro-death penalty when it comes to rodents.) Moose got a dustpan. Goose grabbed a wastebasket. After considerable effort and a lot more shrieking, the mouse was trapped under the wastebasket. A file folder and masking tape were then pressed into service, and eventually the poor mouse was dumped into the toilet and flushed to his demise. I am reasonably certain there are more efficient and humane ways to capture and kill such a small creature, but I am bound by my blogger’s oath to tell the truth with as few stretchers as might be necessary to keep you coming back to Roxie’s World. It happened precisely as I have told it.

And all of that was before Moose saw a rat in the yard last night. She might have seen two rats, or perhaps she saw one rat twice, but there’s been no peace in our house since then. Poor Moose. She tries to tell herself we live in an urban neighborhood near a creek. Rats are part of the environment and not proof of her poor housekeeping or moral depravity. When the summer is dry, as this one has been, we occasionally see rats this time of year. It’s a tough sell, though. In the clean Midwest of her girlhood, there were no rats. (Goose and I are tempted to point out there were no queers, blacks, or Jews either, and that’s one of the many reasons she was so eager to flee the “clean” Midwest of her girlhood, but it’s really futile to engage in rational discourse when Moose is on one of her tears.) Nice people did not have rats; ergo, if we have rats we are not nice people. Or dogs. And so by 5 o’clock this morning Moose was wide awake, with visions of rodents and unfinished syllabi dancing in her head. How many films should she teach? Should she call the exterminator? Documentaries or features? And that rug in the great room! It’s starting to smell. Surely she should do something about that this weekend before the onslaught of a new semester hits. . . .

By 8 a.m. the white tornado was roaring through the great room, somehow convinced that the rats would stay away from the house if she got the carpet clean and, just to be on the safe side, vacuumed the magazine rack and the logs by the fireplace. My Aunt Katie would call this magical thinking, because she is a generous person who always gives folks the benefit of the doubt. Goose and I are less charitable. We think Moose has obsessive-compulsive disorder and do our best to avoid her when one of these fits comes on. Goose made pancakes for breakfast, which forced a brief pause in the onslaught because Moose is inordinately fond of pancakes. By 11, she was off to Home Depot in search of rat poisoning and carpet cleaner, both of which she found.

It’s a little after 1 now, and the calm of restored order has descended on our happy, clean-smelling home. The tornado rests quietly in a chair, glancing just occasionally out into the yard to check for signs of rodents. Seeing none, she smiles with satisfaction. She is a nice person with a clean house. Her tribe is safe. The rats? Well, order requires the banishment of disorder. The rats are on their own in a yard laced with poison (hidden beyond an old dog's reach, of course). All is well in Roxie’s World.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Fair" Coverage? (Updated)

(Photo Credit: Holly McQueen, Des Moines Register)

Remember me, kids? Your favorite dog-blogger? Sole owner and proprietor of Roxie’s World? The fox terrier with the leaky heart, the laptop, and the two funny moms? The one who holds forth here regularly on politics, pop culture, and basketball – as opposed to, say, Japanese roof finials, Buddhist temples, and humidity? The moms are home, vacation’s over, and I’m back in charge of this little postage stamp of virtual soil. I’d like to thank Moose for her dedicated work as Roxie’s World’s very first foreign correspondent. Eat your heart out, Christiane Amanpour. You and CNN have nothin’ on us! Turns out Moose is a pretty good blogger, despite her lack of experience. The guys over in Clicks and Eyeballs are beside themselves with the spikes in traffic we experienced during the moms’ great Japan adventure. We’d like to welcome our new readers – especially those from Japan! – and urge you to come back regularly for a dog’s-eye view of the human spectacle. We snarl at the meanies and give face licks to the good guys and gals. And when we don’t know what else to do, we find a way to laugh.

Okay, let’s get to work! Moose was back on duty in the breakfast nook this morning and came across one of those puffy political stories that invariably get written in the summer of the year before a presidential election when reporters are clearly bored out of their minds and desperate for ways to handicap a race that is still murky as a bowl of mud. The story, by Wa Po political reporter Anne E. Kornblut, focused on the (for some reason) astonishing fact that Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani were at the Iowa State Fair yesterday within four hours of one another. This extraordinary non-coincidence gave Kornblut an excuse to do a head-to-head comparison of how the two New Yorkers performed in the alien universe of the heartland and how they were received by the overweight, under-educated hayseeds who prefer to eat their food off of sticks. (Kornblut's story is here.)

Kornblut doesn’t put it quite that way, of course. Indeed, she says that Clinton and Giuliani, for all their partisan differences, “share an uphill battle -- namely in convincing voters that they are normal people, rather than visiting members of the coastal elite with occasionally gruff manners and sharp partisan elbows.” Interestingly, though, it’s the stick-sucking “normal” Iowans who come off as rude in Kornblut’s account, particularly in their reception of Senator Clinton. It’s clear that Clinton and Giuliani both drew large, enthusiastic crowds in their visit to the fair, but Kornblut can’t resist focusing on “nasty comments” the junior senator from New York supposedly drew from some passersby, including an 87-year-old woman who refused to be introduced to Clinton because, “She makes me sick.” Another “loudly referred to Clinton as ‘the Antichrist,’ and a third man argued with Tom Vilsack about whether she would become president, telling him, ‘I can't stand her.’”

Ah, yes, Hillary the Polarizer, the terrifying shrew “normal” people just love to hate! Step right up to the midway and see the World's Scariest Woman! A related figure is Hillary the Calculator, and she makes an appearance in Kornblut’s article, too, giving a standard stump speech and seeming uninterested in taking questions, in contrast to Giuliani, who “actively sought to engage” with both voters and reporters. Kornblut begrudgingly acknowledges that “Clinton was mobbed for the entire visit” and that “women in particular flocked to meet her.” She also acknowledges that Giuliani, for all his engagement with folks, “did not stray far from his Sept. 11 image, using tough language in response to questions about immigration and terrorism and even discussing fingerprint imaging technology.” His appearance was, in other words, every bit as careful and contrived as that of the supposedly calculating Clinton, yet it’s her performance that comes in for criticism. For some reason, Giuliani is allowed to be a politician playing up his strengths for the crowd, while Clinton is a scheming woman trying to put one over on the naïve rubes of the heartland.

Sigh. I had hoped that while I was on hiatus the political press might have come up with a new story line on the presidential race. That shows no signs of happening yet. Roxie’s World may end up endorsing Senator Clinton just so we can offer the dogged support of a group we might call “Old Bitches for Hillary.”

We will acknowledge that the photos of Clinton at the fair wearing an apron emblazoned with her name and the phrase “The Other White Meat” gave us pause, even though she was photographed with other (male) people wearing similar aprons and even though we are perfectly comfortable with her support of the pork industry. (We say this with sincere apologies to our vegetarian readers, but our household is happier since the moms started serving pork tenderloin and bacon on a regular basis. It’s a simple fact.) Anyway, we think the photo has some jarring resonances in the context of Clinton’s position as a white woman whose main opponent within her own party is an African-American man. We know candidates have to go through all kinds of embarrassing things for the sake of getting a nomination, but we have a queasy feeling about how this image might get used.

Update from the Department of Geese and Gander: The politics of pork is so widespread in Iowa that Clinton may not have a problem after all. Apparently, a whole bunch of presidential wannabes are willing to offer themselves up as "the other white meat," if this photo montage from NYT is to be believed:

(Photo Credits: Eric Thayer for The New York Times; Charlie Neibergal/Associated Press; Eric Thayer/Reuters; Keith Bedford for The New York Times)

Funny that the Post ran a photo of Hillary in the ridiculous apron but did not run one of Giuliani to accompany Kornblut's article, isn't it? Our crack team of internet trollers hasn't come across any photos of Obama sporting the apron and doing time behind the grill. Send 'em along if you spot 'em, but we're guessing his (necessarily) color-conscious campaign knew enough to steer clear of what could have been a visual disaster equivalent to the classic Dukakis-in-a-tank photo. Instead, the Times has an adorable photo of Obama riding in a bumper car with his daughter Sasha. Now that's fair game:

(Photo Credit: Scott Olson, Getty Images)

For another blogger’s detailed deconstruction of Kornblut’s article, see this post in The Daily Howler. For a more even-handed account of Clinton’s visit to the fair, see this report in the Des Moines Register.

We’re back at it, kids, and we’re delighted to have you with us! Keep clicking, and keep the faith.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Yesterday Once More

Quick final note from Moose to the Legions of Loyal Fans just to let you know that we made it home to the most beautiful brown-eyed girl in the world, who is at this moment closely guarding her jet-lagged, snoring Goose. The trip was as miserable as you would imagine thirteen hours in coach would be. A baby cried every inch of those 7000 miles, and either ANA doesn't have as much leg room as advertised or I grew six inches over the past two weeks. In any case, we are back in the People's Republic of Takoma Park, safe, sound, and slightly giddy from the whirlwind of our Japan adventure. Perhaps the sole owner and proprietor of Roxie's World will be kind enough to afford me a little more space in these hallowed precincts over the next few weeks to reflect upon the journey now that it is over. We'll see. I'm sure the Creative Division will have to weigh in on the matter, and I know the folks over in Persona Management are still ticked at me over the "real-world" name faux pa(w)s in some of my early posts. That Mark Twain fella is a real stickler.

In the meantime, having re-crossed the International Dateline, I am busy re-living thirteen hours of the thirteenth day of August, which is just about as weird as it gets if you ask me. Having felt like we were living one Bill Murray film in the past couple of weeks -- Lost in Translation -- I now have an eerie sense of being trapped in another: Groundhog Day. Great flick if you ask me, and massively under-rated, but I will probably freak out if I wake up tomorrow morning and hear "I Got You, Babe" on the radio.

I leave you with a final image from the trip, a close-up of a page from the lengthy informational packet that compelled our attention during our stay at the ryokan (traditional inn) in Hakone. The document contains page after page of problems and situations the traveler might encounter in the course of a stay at what was apparently the most dangerous place on earth, peaceful appearances notwithstanding. Everything from burned-out light bulbs and bad odors to hostage situations and attacks by "gangsters" is addressed in tables with the Japanese characters on on side and English translations on the other. There are even lists of responses the innkeepers might offer to any given problem. Goose and I pored over this text for hours, trying to decide what potent combination of genuine concern and projected anxiety could have produced it. Click on the image to enlarge it, and you should be able to read my favorite section for yourself. It is important to me that you all realize I hew closely to the Roxie's World rule of never making stuff up when unvarnished reality is so enormously entertaining.

Peace out, kids. I think it's time for my nap now.

Love to all,

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Parting Shots

Postcard from Japan (#10)

Dear Rox and LLF,

Our perfect last day in Tokyo began with running into the Dubliners (the Irish family we breakfasted with at the ANA Hotel in Hiroshima) as we were on our way to breakfast. They had come to Tokyo a day early, and we had stayed at the Park Hyatt a day longer than planned. We're staying on the same floor and practically smacked into each other in front of the elevators. I told Goose it reminded me of all those leisure-class travelers in Edith Wharton novels who keep bumping into each other as they make their way from one European watering hole to another, except that we're much nicer people with serious commitments and rich, full inner lives, despite my long-standing identification with the barbarian Indiana Frusk, the most brilliantly named character in all of literature, in my humble opinion. Anyway, the Dubliners were quite delighted to see us, and we were pleased to see them as well. It is funny the fleeting intimacies one manages to establish with complete strangers in situations such as this. In almost any other set of circumstances, we would never have seen each other, much less spoken, but I believed the garrulous Irish dad when he said they had been talking about us over their breakfast and wishing our time here would have overlapped.

After breakfast, we went out for a last bit of sightseeing and shopping. We stayed relatively close to "home" and enjoyed the Sunday rituals of downtown Tokyo: a stroll through the Meiji Shrine and gardens; a visit to the scene on the Harajuku Bridge, where mostly teenage girls hang out dressed as their favorite "Manga" characters (it's an anime thing, for the un-cool [like me] among you); and some shopping and cafe-sitting on the broad boulevard of Omotesando. It was a delightful afternoon, though a beastly hot one, and we were able to pick up some gifts and souvenirs, including a sweet little sake set, because the sake-seeking Bostonian finally convinced me this is a beverage worth drinking. Occasionally.

I could write a long, scholarly article on the topsy-turviness of sex and gender on the Harajuku Bridge, which would be full of profound insights into queer youth cultures around the world, with the appropriate disclaimers about being careful not to impose Western analytical models on non-Western cultures and practices, but it's late and I still haven't packed, so I'm just going to toss up a few images and let the English profs and queer theorists work all that out in Comments.

This sweet-faced drag king deserves two shots, because s/he is just about the cutest thing I saw in the course of this long journey.

This drag queen was unusual in being one of the few -- perhaps the only -- adult who was participating in the scene. S/he was also totally mugging for the camera, which the kids weren't doing for the most part, though most would pose if you asked them to (I didn't). They were hanging out, talking, goofing around, doing a lot of hugging. They weren't oblivious to the hordes of tourists taking photographs all around them, but it wasn't their main focus. For the drag queen, though, the scene was a major voguing opportunity:

Because it was a perfect day, we caught a rare glimpse of Mount Fuji in the summer, which I photographed through the windows of the hotel because that was the only way to do it. Here's proof that dumb luck is the best kind to have:

Our perfect day ended with a lovely dinner at the home of my sister Luanne's friend Laura in Roppongi Hills. Our thanks to Laura for her hospitality and great travel advice throughout our trip. And thanks to all of you for your company on this journey. You've been delightful companions and a generous audience for the maiden efforts of this inexperienced blogger. I look forward to returning to my regular role as mere amanuensis for the creative genius behind Roxie's World, whose beautiful brown eyes I can hardly wait to see. Be patient, Rox. The moms are headed home.

Love to all,

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Land of the Rising Sun

Postcard from Japan (# 9)

Dear Rox and LLF,

[Prescript: Sorry for the delay between posts. Did you miss me? We had a day of travel on Thursday and were off the grid while at the Mikawaya Ryokan (traditional inn) in Hakone. We got back to Tokyo late yesterday afternoon and have been on a whirlwind of pleasure ever since. Except for Traveler’s Nightmare #742B: Camera Battery Death While Trying to Take Most Gorgeous Vacation Snapshot Ever, everything has gone beautifully. We leave here a little after 11 on Monday morning and by that miracle known as the curvature of the earth will arrive back in Washington about a half an hour before we left Tokyo. Don’t think about it too much, Rox. It will only make your head hurt.]

Call it the upside of insomnia. Yesterday I woke up at 4:30 in the morning, as the first streaks of dawn made their way through the curtains of our east-facing windows in the mountains near Hakone. (It’s weird. After nearly two weeks here, we still have a tendency to burst into wakefulness in that hour between 3:30 and 4:30 in the morning. The body can’t seem to let go of the idea that it’s the middle of the afternoon and surely we ought to be doing something productive.) At 5 I gave up and got out of bed, figuring at least maybe I’d get a good photo op out of the deal. (Oh, perhaps it’s the mind that can’t give up on the idea that we ought to be doing something productive.) I picked up my camera, stepped out on the balcony, and here’s what I saw:

A few minutes later I looked down to my right and saw a woman doing t’ai-chi on her balcony on the floor below. She had the incredibly graceful, cat-like combination of agility and softness my teacher always tried to guide us toward during my t’ai-chi years. I watched her until I began to feel guilty for intruding on the privacy of her lovely embrace of the morning. Goose joined me on the balcony around 5:30, and we shared a sunrise for the first time in many, many years.

This morning, back in Tokyo, we worked the early shift again, rising at 4 (I swear you read that right) to go to the famed fish market at Tsukiji, where fish is sold at auction to wholesalers in one of the most extraordinary spectacles I have ever seen. (Read about the market here.) We stood for close to an hour watching men (and the world of the fish auction is a manly world indeed) walk through long rows of frozen tuna, flashlight in one hand, awl in the other, inspecting the merchandise and in some cases tasting it. At 5:30 on the dot, three auctioneers mounted small stools at the front of the vast, chilly room, started ringing bells, and then began the auction. The auctioneers at work were like spoken-word artists or rappers or preachers possessed by the spirit. There was an amazing verbal and physical energy to their performances -- and performances they were. Even though they were conducting separate auctions, their movements, though lightning fast, seemed almost perfectly synchronized. Had they been dancers in a Broadway show, their number would have been a show-stopper. I can't do justice to the experience. Perhaps it's enough to say that it was worth getting up at 4 o'clock in the morning to see it! And because of the aforementioned battery failure, I didn't have my camera with me either, so I've "borrowed" some photos from National Geographic so you can see what the market looks like. These images are amazingly like what we saw this morning.

(Photo Credits: James L. Stanfield, National Geographic)

There is so much more to tell about the past two days, which have been full of so much bliss on so many levels. This is not the long, richly detailed post I wanted to write, but it's the one I was able to produce at the end of a day that began at 4 a.m. yesterday. More soon, I hope, before this humble English prof returns Roxie's World to its sole owner and proprietor.

Love to all,

P.S. to Rox and all her terrier fans: Thought you would like to see this photo of what looks for all the world like an ancient Japanese terrier, which I managed to snap yesterday in the Tokyo National Museum before I got yelled at for using my flash. Sure looks like a fox to me, don't you think? I'll let Roxie and her new pal Foxy weigh in on this vital matter of history and lineage, but I think it proves what we fox folk have always known: Terriers RULE!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

On Seeing "Sameness"

Postcard from Japan (#8)

Dear Rox and LLF,

Scene One: Breakfast, ANA Hotel, Hiroshima

We’re in a rush, nearly an hour behind schedule because someone was up late blogging last night and then couldn’t fall asleep. We’re seated next to a “white” family but are focused on trying to figure out why we’re given lunch menus when the breakfast buffet is still out. We resolve that international puzzle and are tucking into our scrambled eggs when the woman next to us turns and says in a loud whisper, “It’s so nice to see non-Asians.” Yikes, we think, what is she assuming about us, and how do we respond to such an opening line? I think I took another bite of egg. Goose probably said something vague and noncommital like, “We’re pleased that it’s less humid here than it was in Kyoto.” Fortunately, a conversation ensued, and we quickly reached more comfortable ground. They were Dubliners, a mom, dad, and teenaged son just in the night before from Shanghai. They’ve been traveling for nearly a month. They are having the time of their lives, though the son seems a little road-weary and the mom thinks the Chinese are “pushy.” Dad, however, is wildly enthusiastic about China and insists we have to go there, and when we go we have to stay in Hyatts. “Hyatt is all over China,” he says, “and they’re wonderful. You have to go. China is where it’s at.” Dad is a little hard to understand, because his voice is soft and low, but his zeal for China is palpable. They’ll be staying in the Park Hyatt Tokyo on the 13th, the day we leave for home.

This close encounter is the first of this sort that we’ve had since we’ve been here, though I’ve noticed how often our glances momentarily lock on those of other “non-Asians” as we walk through the streets or sit on trains or see the sights. Perhaps it’s a reflex action, a natural response by members of a group accustomed to being in the majority who suddenly find themselves radically in the minority. Perhaps it’s another aspect of the “Nara-tology” problem I mused upon yesterday. When so much in a new environment is so deeply unfamiliar, like reaches toward like, even if the likeness proves to be superficial or based on error. I’m realizing, for example, that I was initially reading the “non-Asians” I was seeing as mostly Americans, but that is by no means the case. American tourists are far outnumbered here by Europeans, French and Germans in particular, and by Australians. Sameness and difference are shifting grounds, equally treacherous, equally uncertain, it turns out, in travel as in critical theory.

Scene Two: Ferry to Miyajima

Straight couple in their mid-30s is behind us in line for the ferry. He’s worried that they need tickets to get on board, though they have passes from the rail company that runs the ferry. He’s worrying in a loud voice with a British accent. We turn and assure him that you don’t need tickets when there aren’t reserved seats. We’ve got the passes, too. We learned this lesson half an hour ago in the Hiroshima station and are pleased to pass it along to fellow travelers. His girlfriend has a British accent too -- kind of but not exactly. We chat with them for most of the short ferry ride. Where have you been? What have you done? How long are you here? They also stayed in the Park Hyatt Tokyo and were jealous to hear that we would be going back in a few days. The girlfriend, it turns out, is from San Antonio, Texas but has lived in London for the past three years. “Oh, sweetheart,” I wanted to say after knowing her for ten minutes, “what else are you hiding beneath that fake little voice of yours? Whatever it is, is it really worth all the effort you’re making to conceal it?”

Scene Three: Train from Miyajima to Hiroshima

Mom in her mid-thirties is traveling with her daughter, who looks to be around six. They are seated facing us, speaking French. The kid is adorable. My heart melts. The train is crowded with day-trippers from Miyajima and assorted locals. A Japanese man with a cat in a carrier stands next to us and puts the cat carrier down on the floor. He engages the little girl’s attention by speaking to her and pointing out the cat. She is mesmerized, keeps tapping on the top of the carrier to get the cat to look at her. Suddenly, she looks over at me and asks if I speak French. “Oui,” I say, friendly but self-conscious about my rusty French, “un peu.” I ask her if she has a cat at home and she says she does, but he lives in the garden. Actually, Mom had to clarify that part for me. I have a hard time understanding the girl’s French. We have another version of the travelers’ chat, but this one feels warmer, probably because the kid is so cute and the cat gives all of us an excuse to smile and be silly. At some point we shift into English so that Goose can join the conversation (and I can stop asking the poor woman to repeat herself). Mom is a little uncertain about where their stop is, and they wind up exiting suddenly, a couple of stops before the main Hiroshima station. We barely have a chance to say good-bye, but when they reach the platform they turn back and wave. I’m not sure if they’re waving at us or at the cat, but we wave back enthusiastically. What’s funny to me is that I have found myself ready to lapse into French on several occasions on this trip, because it is wired into my limited brain as “the language that is not English.” I default into it whenever my main programming language doesn’t work. There it is again: the irresistible urge to find sameness within difference, to make the unfamiliar familiar. Oh, well. At least the French finally came in handy.

The trip is winding down now, kids. Tomorrow we’re off to Hakone for our night at a traditional Japanese inn (with thermal baths), then back to Tokyo for the last hurrah. Below are a few shots from Hiroshima and Miyajima. It was a little jarring to move from the somberness of Hiroshima to the loveliness of Miyajima, but part of what one takes away from Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park and Museum is the value and necessity of finding (or building) beauty after ruin, so perhaps the contradiction between the two places isn’t as jarring as it seems. In any case, I won’t touch the subjects of war, peace, and nuclear weaponry, at least not here, not tonight. It’s late, and this weary traveler needs to get some sleep. I’ll let Goose pop off on those topics in Comments.

Love to all,

Memorial Cenotaph, Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima
A-Bomb Dome (formerly Hiroshima's Industrial Promotion Hall, this building was directly below the atomic bomb blast but did not collapse)
O-torii ("big gate"), Miyajima (not quite high tide, so the "floating" effect is incomplete)
Floating Women (Photo Credit: Sweet probably German guy on beach)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Postcard from Japan (#7)

Dear Rox and LLF,

Full disclosure: I coined the neologism “Nara-tology” on the train down to Nara before we had seen even a glimpse of its splendors and knew that it was deserving of such cleverness. I hope I don’t get in trouble with the Creative Division for that bit of advance planning, but this daily deadline pressure is killing me. I grab inspiration whenever and wherever I find it. Besides, I figured the English profs and grad students who are vicariously traveling with us on this journey would get a kick out of the pun. The two English profs who were actually on the train with me (Goose and the Bostonian) certainly chuckled, but I laughed uproariously, being, as usual, inordinately amused by my own joke.

By the end of our half-day (Monday) in Nara, we had collectively coined a couple of other clever and useful terms: Temple Snobbery and Temple Psychosis. “Temple Snobbery” is suffered by someone who has spent several days bagging the major temples of Kyoto, then stepped off the train in Nara and marched straight up to Todai-ji, the extraordinary temple that houses the Daibutsu, the colossal bronze statue of the Buddha. (Read more about Todai-ji here. Read more about the city of Nara here.) Once you’ve done that, especially if you’re on foot and the temperature and humidity are both somewhere in the 90s, you suddenly find you’re less impressed with the lesser, though lovely, temples that are everywhere in Nara. Oh, sure, we forged on to Ni-gatsu-do (Second Month Temple) to take in the panoramic views from its hilltop veranda and then headed for Kasuga Taisha to see the famous 2000 stone lanterns that line its pretty pathways through the woods. Your three middle-aged white chicks were as intrepid and cheerful as the Von Trapp family children singing their way through the (cool) Alpine countryside. And yet, by the time we got to Kasuga Taisha, we all agreed we didn’t need to pay the 500 yen entry fee to gain access to the main part of the temple complex. The afternoon was advancing. We hadn’t eaten lunch. We had more temples on our list to see.

In other words, we were rapidly advancing toward a state of Temple Psychosis, a condition not dissimilar to a traveler’s ailment Goose and I years ago identified as “Museum Psychosis.” You know the symptoms. You’ve been in Europe for about ten days, hitting the highlights of Westuhn Culcha. Suddenly you realize you’re wandering in a blind daze from one room to another. “Oh, look,” you think to yourself, “a Titian.” You shuffle to the next painting. “Huh, a Veronese. God, my feet hurt.” Next. “Hmmm, Tintoretto. Nice colors. I think I have to pee.” Yesterday, by the time we got to Kofuku-ji, with its impressive five-story pagoda, we could barely be bothered to point our cameras skyward to try to capture its magnificence. Temple Psychosis had definitely taken hold. Fortunately, the condition is amenable to a simple treatment of food, drink, and air-conditioning, all of which we were able to find in a small restaurant close to the train station on our way back. Within minutes, the lights were back on in all our eyes, and we declared another day of triumphant touring.

My jokes about the bodily and psychic discomforts of travel aside, Nara really is a spectacular place. The massive Daibutsu, with his huge, steady eyes and his gently upraised hand, inspires something close to awe. I continue to be struck by the mixture of tourism and reverence we see in all of these places and deeply moved by being in a culture so much quieter and more considerate than my own. It’s hard to write about it without sounding like an idiot who thinks she’s discovered the essence of the East five minutes after her plane landed. It’s equally hard to turn off the impulse to interpret everything according to the grid of that home culture, even when so many of the operative distinctions seem clearly not to work in the same way. Is that a wealthy neighborhood or a poor one, I wonder, as the bullet train speeds by a cluster of homes built close to the tracks? At home, of course, the rich never live close to the railroad tracks, but some of these houses seem solid, substantial, built out of expensive materials, though others. . .not so much. Is this an urban space or a rural one, I try to fathom, noting the rice paddies that butt up against the industrial-looking buildings? Is that a dyke? A tranny? A butch? A straight woman in sensible shoes? You see how quickly my “Nara-tology” has become a theory of uncertainty, of a defamiliarization so thorough that a reader can only shake her head and say, “I’m not sure. I’m just not sure. Most of my usual toe-holds are gone. I love it, but there is so much I can’t begin to understand.”

And so I remember what our Sweetie Boy (aka Queer Son, aka the Official Prep School Teacher of Roxie’s World), a military brat who spent time in Japan growing up, said to us when we called him from Dulles the morning we left for this trip: “Don’t try to understand it. Just let it wash over you.” Fortunately, I have a high tolerance for certain forms of uncertainty, so I am willing to be washed over, to be unmoored for awhile from the usual machineries of making sense. In less than a week, we’ll be home to a world whose coordinates are as familiar as the sound of our own heartbeats. In the meantime, we adjust – learn to say “thank you” in another language, to bow when we ask questions, to give way to the elderly, to get the cab to drop us at the right entrance to the train station. We do such things because a good “Nara-tology” is always a mixture of certainty and uncertainty, a movement between states of knowing and not-knowing. We work strenuously to make the unfamiliar familiar, because we are always striving to be better readers. And travelers. And humans. Or so we English profs are inclined to believe.

Below are a few photos from the trip to Nara. Please note that the big Buddha is a tough fellow to photograph, being a dark figure in a poorly lighted space. Hilarious shots of Goose feeding deer result from the fact that deer are considered sacred in Nara, which means they are completely domesticated and aggressively butt tourists looking for food. The poor Bostonian has a lovely soiled white linen shirt to prove it.

We are in Hiroshima now, on the day after the 62nd anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb. Details tomorrow or the next day on our latest foray into World War Tourism. Peace to you all, beloveds.

Much love,

Mother Goose Feeds the Deer of Nara

Daibutsu-den (Hall of the Great Buddha, Todai-ji Temple Complex)
Daibutsu (the Great Buddha)

Kaisuga Taisha

The Stone Lanterns of Kasuga Taisha

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Sunday on the Streets of Kyoto

Postcard from Japan (#6)

Dear Rox and LLF,

Don't get all excited, kids, because this isn't going to be much of a post. Goose, the Bostonian, and I are getting ready to head off to Nara today (Monday), so I can't hang out here at the computer all day. Sometimes, in order to blog about the vacation, a girl actually has to go out and do a little vacating, you know? Nara is like Six Flags Over Buddhism or something. It's even got the world's tallest Buddha statue, so you know we have to see that. The guidebooks all say so, the American Express travel office said so, and the Bostonian's girlfriend insisted, so away we all shall go, as soon as I post and brush my teeth. The guidebook didn't tell me to do that; I came up with the idea of dental hygiene all by myself.

Yesterday our merry band of middle-aged white chicks hit the streets of Kyoto for more shopping and general exploration. We ended up in the area around Terramachi Street, which has a covered arcade of shops that were mostly tacky, but it was interesting to watch the crowds of non-tourist folks hanging out on a Sunday afternoon. After shopping, we wandered into the Gion district, famous for the tradition of geishas. We had dinner at a lovely spot along the river. We dined al fresco with the din of some kind of market on the river's edge as our background music. The food was Asian with a French twist. Goose had a delicate fish roll with hammo and lobster, the Bostonian had a rather extraordinary tuna "spare rib" (who knew there was such a thing?), and I had pork in a subtle pistachio sauce. We lingered at the table over sake and desserts. My companions, having now signed onto the green-tea project with gusto, ordered a green-tea pannacotta, while I sampled the sherbet of the day.

Here are a few snaps from the day, including a couple of the market by the river. I think the one of me is absolutely hideous, but I thought it was important for readers to see Moose and Goose together on the streets of Japan. Note to self: Next trip has to be to a more hair-friendly destination.

Love to all,


Note from the Office of Persona Management:

It has come to our attention that in recent posts the inexperienced blogger known as “Moose” has referred to several individuals by non-blogospheric names such as “Mary Loeffelholz,” “Bob Pollak,” and “Erland Heginbotham.” This is a clear violation of OPM identity protocols and policies, and it has brought shame to all of us here in Roxie’s World. We would cut off “Moose’s” access to this space if we didn’t realize the mistake arose from jetlag and the aforementioned inexperience. Also, the Office of Clicks and Eyeballs reports that traffic on Roxie’s World is up significantly since “Moose” started offering up morsels of travel commentary and pretty pictures from Japan, so in the interest of giving the people what they want we have decided to let her keep posting but put her on a shorter leash. Our sincere apologies to those individuals whose “real world” identities were inadvertently revealed. Henceforth, they shall be known in these precincts as, respectively, the Bostonian, the Affable Economist, and the Sage Asianist. Please delete all other identity references from your memory banks.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Twain, Director
Office of Persona Management
RW Enterprises, LLC

Postcard from Japan (#5)

Dear Rox and LLF,

Wow, sorry for ruffling feathers over in OPM. Like I said, this blogging business is a lot harder than it was when all I had to do was type!

Back to what I do best: Saturday was an action-packed adventure here in Kyoto. Goose and the Bostonian were liberated from the conference and eager to do some serious exploration of the city, so we set off to the east side of town to hit as many temples, shrines, and other highlights as we could. Or so we thought, until the cab dropped us off at a temple on the west side of town, having heard our efforts to communicate our desire to go to the temple of Ginkaku-ji (which means “Temple of the Silver Pavilion”) as a desire to go to the temple of Kinkaku-ji (which means “Temple of the Golden Pavilion”). No matter. The Golden Pavilion is also a World Heritage Site, and it was well worth visiting. Originally built in 1393 as a shogun’s retirement home, the temple was rebuilt in 1955 after a fire, which was when all three stories of the building were covered in gold leaf, in accordance with the shogun’s original intentions. The golden structure seems to float above the beautiful pond on which it is built. Grounds are lovely, too, though the place is so packed with tourists that it’s difficult to stop and enjoy them.

From the Golden Pavilion, we found our way to our original destination, having learned to point things out on a map to make sure our awkward efforts to communicate were understood. The Silver Pavilion, is not, alas, silver, apparently because the shogun who built it for his retirement home ran short of time and money before he could carry out his plans. Buildings here are less impressive (at least from the outside, which is all we were able to see), but the grounds are beautiful – dry Zen gardens of raked sand, a verdant pond garden, a moss garden, tall, thin trees that reach skyward. This place manages to feel meditative despite the crowds.

Having bagged two major temples, we headed down the Path of Philosophy, which runs beside a delicate stream, in search of shade and quieter places. Goose and the Bostonian were having the experience of unrelenting heat and stultifying humidity that I had had over the past couple of days. We were a sweaty pack of middle-aged American grrls making our way along the path, but we embraced all the afternoon offered in a spirit of adventure and had a wonderful time. Just a few steps off the path, we found the temple of Honen-in, which gets my vote for highlight of the day. It was practically deserted, so it was easier to take in the feeling of tranquility that permeated the place – from its thatched-roof gate to its beautifully tended gardens to its large, peaceful cemetery. We splashed water on our faces from trickling fountains and reveled in a moment of coolness before finding our way back to the path. (Paws up to the Bostonian, by the way, who turns out to be a pretty darn good pathfinder. Even Goose deferred to her impressive skill in this arena. I will follow anyone who pretends to know where they are going because I never do, but that Bostonian knows how to read a map.)

We stopped briefly at a couple of shrines (the names of which we didn’t even note, though one was probably Okazaki) before deciding to head to a main street in search of shopping and cold beverages. We found the Kyoto Craft Center and spent a happy air-conditioned hour looking for ways to invest in the local economy. The Bostonian was successful in that mission, Goose and I less so. They had some beautiful stuff, but nothing spoke to me loudly enough to talk its way into my suitcase for the trip home.

Our quest for cold beverages was, like all good quests, fraught with difficulty yet ultimately successful. It can be hard to spot bars and cafes on the streets of Kyoto, but we were surprised to see so few in a busy part of town on a Saturday evening. We wandered for several long, hot blocks without seeing anything that looked like a bar. Finally, as we came to the river that divides the city in two along its north-south axis, we looked off to the right and saw a sign for Heartland Beer. (Never heard of it? Yeah, me neither.) Our spirits lifted as we made our way into a small but pretty and welcoming place that was deserted except for a friendly guy behind the bar. We settled into seats, managed to communicate a desire for beers all around, and toasted our good fortune in the delightful afternoon. With the first round, we were brought tiny bowls of delicious seaweed. By the second round, a woman had come in to wait tables, and we each got some sort of mystery nut or radish that popped into our mouths when we bit its skin. Then we were treated to sake served in the prettiest frosted glasses I had ever seen, at which point the sake-seeking Bostonian got all misty-eyed and said, “Let’s just stay here for dinner.” Goose and I immediately agreed that we had stumbled onto something marvelous and that we should embrace it as we had the other adventures of the day, assuming of course we could figure out how to explain what we wanted in the absence of English menus.

The Bostonian and I left that job to Goose, who can usually be relied upon to get what she wants through a combination of broad smiles, large gestures, and the repetition of a few key words. Sure enough, she and the waitress managed to settle on a menu of sashimi and tempura that proved to be stunning for its simplicity and freshness. We had a course of salmon and a course of yellowtail as well as the tempura, and then the Bostonian declared we had to have octopus. To convey this inspiration, the Bostonian drew a picture of an octopus on a napkin, which amused our host to no end while successfully communicating our desire. He consulted with other patrons on how to ask us if we would like our octopus to be “spicy.” We assured him we did. A few minutes later, there arrived on our table the most sublime octopus I have ever ingested. We devoured it and nearly wept with pleasure. Then I insisted we have green-tea ice cream for dessert because I am doing a study of green-tea ice cream on this trip and needed to conduct essential research. Even the ice cream was perfect.

Our evening of cross-cultural culinary nirvana ended on a note of high hilarity, as we insisted on thanking our hosts in their native language. Late in the meal, I had realized our Fodor’s has a glossary of basic Japanese words in the back. We had looked up the word for “thank you,” but under the pressure of actually trying to say it to someone we all got tongue-tied. “Wait, wait,” I said to our uncomprehending but smiling host and grabbed the book to look it up again. I flipped frantically around until finally I landed on the desired word. I looked up with a goofy grin and declared, “Arigato,” as proudly as if the word had never been said before. Our hosts beamed, bowed, and said “Arigato” right back to us, and then Goose, the Bostonian, and all the other patrons joined in a lusty chorus of “Arigatos” that accompanied us out the door and into the damp yet slightly cooler Kyoto evening. At that moment, I think it’s fair to say, we were the happiest travelers on the face of the earth. We would pass along the name of this fine establishment where we enjoyed such extraordinary food, drink, and conviviality, but the business card is written in Japanese, so we have no idea what it’s called. Perhaps the Bostonian will supply directions to the place in Comments.

Peace out, kids. Sorry for the late post, but it was a long day and it took awhile to write it all up. Arigato for your patience.

Love to all,

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Tourist as Bad Student

Postcard from Japan (#4)

Dear Rox and LLF,

Friday was a low-key day, touring-wise. Goose is embroiled in the conference, and the weather has been iffy with a typhoon, or rumors of a typhoon, somewhere in the area. The air is thick enough to slice, and the sky looks like it will explode at any moment, so the affable economist and I decided to keep things simple and just do an afternoon tour of the Kyoto Imperial Palace, conveniently located in a large, lovely park right across the street from our hotel. Our simple plan required not one but three trips through the park -- the first to ascertain that we could get a permit to join a tour that day, the second to actually get the permit, which we couldn't get on the first trip because someone neglected to bring her passport along (not realizing that proof of identity was necessary for a walk through a park), and the third for the tour itself, which turned out to be not an intimate look at the inner world of the palace but, as I said, a walk through the park that allowed distant views through the open doors of the palace.

When I realized that was all we were getting, I have to confess I sort of checked out on what the tour guide was saying and started scouting around for photo opportunities, keeping in mind my obligations to the loyal readers of Roxie's World. (I know it's late on the East Coast, and you haven't had your update yet today. Inexperienced as I am as a blogger, I feel your restless fingers out there, clicking on reload again and again, eager for your fix. Now I appreciate the pressure poor Roxie has felt in the past 18 months, the pressure of all that concentrated longing. Gosh, Rox, I don't know how you handle it.) Anyway, as I wandered around looking high and low for potential sources of eye candy, the guide's words occasionally landed in my brain, much as the words of Charlie Brown's school teacher would reach him from time to time. Here's a little sample of what was going on in my mind as the tour unfolded:
Blah blah blah, blah blah blah, blah blah blah, blah blah, this room was used for ceremonial purposes, such as the Coming-of-Age Ceremony. . . .blah blah blah, blah blah blah, blah blah blah, damn, is it starting to rain? I think it's starting to rain. Or maybe it's just drizzling. Should I put the camera in the pack so it doesn't get wet and get out the umbrella? Yes, I think I should get out the umbrella. Blah blah blah, blah blah blah, blah blah blah, this is the gate that the emperor uses when he is at the palace. This is the gate that lesser royals use when the emperor is not at the palace, and that gate, the one you came in, is the one that servants use. Blah blah blah, blah blah blah, blah blah blah, okay, maybe it isn't really going to rain. Should I put the umbrella away and get the camera back out? I think I should. I've got to get a shot of those finials on the roof. Those are the most fabulous finials I have ever seen. To hell with the rain. Roxie's readers will want to see those finials. Is that the right word, though? Are those really "finials"? Blah blah blah, blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah blah, this building houses the imperial thrones. In the center you see the emperor's throne. Over there to the left is the throne of the empress. It is ten percent smaller than the emperor's throne. Blah blah blah, blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah, and this is the Oikeniwa Garden, a strolling garden with an arc-shaped bridge stretching across the pond, and blah blah blah, blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah, okay, kids, now we're gettin' somewhere, nothing like a Japanese garden for some good eye candy.
You get the drift. See for yourself whether my lack of concentration resulted in decent photographs.

Last night was the conference banquet, our second night in a row of a full-on traditional Japanese feast. I can't begin to recapitulate how many courses we had or what we ate, mostly because I often had no clear sense of what it was I was putting into my mouth, despite attentive and eager-to-explain Japanese table mates. Suffice it to say the meal involved small portions of everything but cheese and was mostly delicious. One Japanese custom around the rituals of eating and drinking that has impressed me is the one about re-filling drinks. You are never supposed to re-fill your own glass, because to do so implies that your dining companions aren't taking good care of you. As soon as your glass is half-empty, someone is likely to re-fill it. You are also never supposed to refuse a re-fill. If you're concerned about drinking too much, you just take tiny sips and try to assure that your glass stays at least half-full. (There's a half-empty, half-full joke in there somewhere, but I'm in too much of a hurry to make it.) Or, you just keep knocking them back to allow your dining companions to demonstrate how caring and attentive they are. Which is pretty much how I handled this crucial question of etiquette on foreign soil.

Saturday afternoon the conferees are liberated from the program to go touring. Goose and I will be off with Mary Loeffelholz to east Kyoto for temples, geishas, and shopping in more or less that order. More soon, fans, friends, family, and random pointers and clickers. May your glasses always be at least half-full.

Much love,

Kyoto Imperial Palace Photos