DO NOT READ THIS! THE FINAL VERSION IS HERE!
I'm now thrashing around and the roosters are crowing. This is a work in progress that will be done within the hour. What follows are chunks of text that are being refined and polished down. Here is the start of this story. I will likely leave these mistake-filled fragments here, but the final, 14 karat version will be added to an updated version of this.
Inari, Bali and Snow (3)
"Tekka" means "iron fire". Tekka miso. Iron fire miso, roasted in a pan for three hours. Sesame seeds. Coconut oil and palm sugar. Mom and I are talking about the art of food; food as social art. Nutritious, delicious sculptures and edible haikus. Popcorn as public sculpture. I explain about el Bulli, Documenta and Chinese pastries shaped like thumbprints. Mom tells me about the miso eaten at Hiroshima. We talk about making furikake.
The whole thing...
The following is a draft finalized on March 15, 2016 at about 7 AM. It will be reworked, restructured and rewritten.I include it here because it really captures the feeling of furikake. The following text is a sprinkling, a mix of tastes positioned by chance upon a whiteness.
Faint, bittersweet sands of time
swirling clouds; rice ball.
Inari, Bali and Snow
During my first winter in Asia my home was a little tatami room in Yotsuya. There, on the morning of January 28, 1985, I awoke well before dawn, bundled up and set out to wander through the continuing grandeur of a snowstorm that had shut down Tokyo. I was hungry; had nothing but coins in my pocket and a camera loaded with black and white film. I slid open the door and began to trudge through the snowdrifts. Cold air stung my nose and lungs. After the white maze of my neighborhood, I reached Shinjuku-dori. Then west, past the Sun Music Building that the singer threw herself off of. Then Yasukuni-dori, with the thought of going right and visiting Yasukuni Shrine. I’d sat in its cafeteria once, with a veteran from World War II who said I looked like Gary Cooper. We drank green tea beneath a Mitsubishi Zero attached to the ceiling
But no, I wandered left, towards Shinjuku san-chome, where I stood beneath a traffic light and watched its colored lights tint the swirling snow. Eventually I reached Mitsukoshi and the other department stores, each big enough to occupy an entire block. Further west, across from the station, the gaudy lights, billboards and neon of Kabukicho had become soft pastels. On small side streets, I passed darkened yakitori-yas, convenience stores and round red akachochins topped with snow and ice. The quiet. The cold. The feeling of being immensely alone. And lost. Lost, lost, lost. Delightfully so.
Flower garden. A French friend and I went drinking near here one night and he told me that the Chinese characters carved in the monument now before me mean Flower Garden. Hanazono Jinja. Hundreds of years ago, the Hanazono family built this shrine , one dedicated to Inari, the androgynous god of fertility and worldly success. Inari, god of the arts.
I walk forward, between two dull grey buildings. At the end of the passage, a torii; waiting like a strange goal post, or a letter from an alien alphabet. Tubular, wooden and orange, the torii is a relic from a ceremony of whispers. The people of Tokyo are warm in their beds and sleeping; I am in the cold and dreaming.
There is a stone basin for washing one’s hands and rinsing one’s mouth; the ice within it protected by lace made of wire mesh and snow. The ema, the small, thin wood plaques covered with neatly written hopes and wishes are bunched in rows, nooses connecting them to the display stand. The temple grounds are barely lit and surrounded by modernity. Then!
The clouds part and—for an instant– the sun rushes in like a spotlight. Below the dark blue snowy sky, golden light strikes the temple’s black tortoise shell roof, the white frost on the pine trees, and the stone foxes standing guard. The fresh vermillion paint for Oshogatsu, the corridor of red toriis, the simplistic arabesques of gold trim, the precise and clean concrete stairs; the sun is behind me, throwing itself forward everywhere. The gigantic shrine vibrates like a massive, noble flame of Japanese architecture. The vividness of details, the vividness of the whole… Then–just a glimpse– the full moon. Asahi!
I stood alone in that quiet heaven of color until the threat of the freezing cold be ignored no longer. My feet and hands were paralyzed.
I vaguely recognized the steps at the back of the shrine, thought they’d be a shortcut to the Dunkin Donuts on Shinjuku-dori. At the top of the stairs, however, I saw that I was overlooking the two-story wooden shacks and alleys of Golden Gai. Golden Gai: one of those places that teen aged Western boys imagine they will one day find themselves in. Prostitution, gambling, rendezvous spots, cheap drinking places, yakitori shops, bars specializing in all kinds of music; all connected by very narrow walkways lit by red paper lanterns and old cheap plastic Suntory signs. Somewhere in Golden Gai was Shunchan’s. Like a wounded cowboy I limped down the stairs into a Golden Gai that was now a little white ghost town. I was sure Shunchan wouldn't be there. I was wrong.
“Irrrashai!” He said it not with the loud bellowing mechanical style of most Japanese shop owners, but as though he were sharing an inside joke. It was 7AM, in a frozen and snowbound Tokyo, but Shunchan smiled at me like it was late on a Friday night after payday. Both serene and slightly nervous, Shunchan is the perfect host. He stabbed the chunk of ice in his hand with an ice pick while I thought about my order.
Was Shunchan a great friend of mine? No–but he was an anchor, a touchstone. Regular. I was a regular in Shunchan’s bar; he and his little bar provided a regularity in a city full of extremes of many kinds. There was always always an interesting crowd. Whether they were Japanese, Russian or Australian, Shunchan made the hostesses feel relaxed. He treated the English teachers and backpackers like locals. Celebrities, artists and musicians brought in great mixtapes, his drinks weren’t that expensive and Shunchan laughed a lot. He was good friends with the young woman in the bright orange dress.
I sat in the back, watched by the same old big posters of bent-over Japanese girls in bikinis on beaches holding mugs full of beer. Even when Shunchan’s was half-full, you had to stand behind the people seated at the bar and couldn’t help but sometimes touch them. There was a kerosene heater by Shunchan’s feet. My hands treasured my glass of hot water and whiskey. My frozen pants were melting.
A naked and attractive young Japanese woman tiptoed down the stairs like a pixie. With her finger, she moved her hair behind her ear. She She politely smiled at me, then leaned forward to watch Shunchan make her tea. I became fascinated with the smoke-stained chirashis promoting last years offerings of underground movies, independent music, butoh and avante-garde theatre. She was flush with the color and smell of sex. She was steamy. She went back upstairs. Shunchan said nothing, I said nothing. A moment later, a young naked Japanese man came down, got a drink and went back up. Then another. Shunchan, smiled at me and went back to using his ice pick. My unforgettable morning was, for him, just another day at work.
February 21, 2016
Bamboo Spirit is a large house-like, open structure located at the top of the Penestanan steps. It’s old, made of wood and next to a stream. Bamboo Spirit is a Hindu place, a Russian place, a quietly glorious Balinese place. From the second floor and the small room on the third, one can see rice fields and the hills of Ubud. On Sundays there is a vegetarian buffet and this is how I met Mom, who, with her husband, Komang, and a team from WWOOF, operate Mom NatuRa, a farm that uses no pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Mom and her team display their goods at Bamboo Spirit. When Mom and I met, we soon discovered our shared appreciation of all things fermented. I gave Mom some laphet (Burmese fermented tea leaves) and she gave me mimosa tea. As soon as I could, I went to Mom’s farm, ready to experience the first shift, from six to nine in the morning.
I Am a Muddy Path With No Banana Leaves
I drove to Mas in darkness.
Mom welcomed me:"Six o'clock. You are on time. Like the Japanese." She gave me her husband's boots. My first task was to water "our plants".That was on Level 1. Later in the morning, Rachel watered Level 2 and Liisa looked for okra on Level 3. There's a teepee on the edge of Level 4. Mom was everywhere. Children from the school yelled "Hello" and "Good morning", their voices and enthusiasm strong enough to cross the big field between us. Later, we heard them singing Balinese songs. I used a sickle on the plants surrounding the wild peanuts and discovered okra blossoms. As she walked in, as though she were laughing, Alex asked me how I was doing.
We ate breakfast in Mom's bamboo house. Manny talked about food, air, water and McDonald's and we all discussed furikake, laphet and mimosa tea. Mom taught us that the “tekka” in tekka miso is derived from the Chinese characters meaning fire and iron. Tekka is also used to describe someone with strong, purposeful energy. Rachel mentioned something she'd read about how the visual appearance of food influences the effectiveness of digestion. We ate papaya and okra salad and rice balls. Another topic: the ideal state of mind for those people who prepare food. While I was at Mom's farm for those four hours I was in the center of a beautifully slow and flowing sequence of events, thoughts and exchanges. I drank no coffee.:)
But my strongest impression was my experience with the muddy path task. The farm has a network of paths and some sections had become very slippery because of the rain. Mom told me to use the old leaves and stalks from the banana plants as mats that would provide traction and improve safety. You don't want to fall with a large cutting instrument in your hands... I didn't plan; in such a cosmic place, everything would be naturally perfect. But I learned that my thinking was wrong.
I should have gained information about: a) the number of banana leaves available, b) the number of trouble spots, c) the "danger rating" of trouble spots, d)"danger ratings" vs. frequency of use, e) location and f) time available to complete the task.
I should have improved the most dangerous high-traffic sections first, starting with the steps between levels. Then, I should have used my limited amount of banana tree resources to prevent new trouble spots from developing. With whatever time was left, I should have put at least one leaf on all of the remaining areas, which would have warned others of danger.
But as it is, many parts of the paths on the farm are still very slippery and one small area in Level 1 is very safe.
So, although we had no serious discussions about furikake, my first day at Mom's taught me about her approach to farming. In that natural environment I also was given time to reflect upon myself.
But back to furikake...
It has always been my dream to create a type of furikake. I see rice as a canvas upon which a composition is sprinkled. This canvas, is in turn placed into the gallery of the mouth, where , instead of viewers, there are glands, teeth and the tongue with its taste sensors. These critics are brutal and a poor furikake artwork will be spit out. A great furikake artwork will be savored and possibly become an addiction.
This farm makes miso. I 've picked peanuts here, and used a hoe to make a ditch. Komang gave me striped okra pods that were like striped, brittle antelope horns. Three seeds in a hole. I did that carefully as I could but then the sun was going down and I speeded up. Not good to leave something undone. Komang may have seen me rushing, maybe not. He just came over and helped. "We always plant with love," is all he said.
LAPHET ART: A collaboration between Mom and Stephen Black
Miso Furikake, roasted over a pan for 2-3 hours and then mixed with other zingy things.
So:Tokyo, quite a few years, New York for a year, before and after The Handover in Hong Kong, then Tokyo for the millennium, then the excitement of crashing the dot-com boom party with Kumiko Akiyoshi. Singapore, to create Second Life, but before Second Life; to lay the foundation for something like Youtube, but before Youtube. My indefinably starlike daughter... Supernova relationships. Scholarly friends, friends who needed a bath like me, friends who drove around in new cars and threw cigarette butts out the window. Roommates with holes in their socks and roommates who blessed me with hearty breakfasts and made me feel like family. A three-legged cat and driving away from a lover's home in Paris as the sun rose and the taxi river played a ney as he drove me from the Port of Clouds to Orly. Medicinal mushrooms and sitting in a Clementi coffeeshop, a cheap mobile phone to my ear as I learned how they took a long blood vessel from the leg and put it in his chest to repair his heart. Chemo and radiation treatments. I think of all of these things,especially the chemo and radiation, as I plant black beans and watch the sunrise. Chemo and radiation, chemo and radiation.
But it was March 20, 2106 and we were in a bamboo house talking and talking, getting to know each other and preparing to create something that would be an artwork, a flavorful delight and perhaps a product: miso-based furikake. Alive, we were talking about making something that would keep people alive.
Kue.I should mention the name of this bakery because I am a food artist who has created artworks with kue, though I prefer the spelling of k-w-ay and most of Singapore, at least uses the spelling of k-u-e-h. For what it's worth, I am back in front of my computer after doing errands in downtown Ubud. There is a strawberry Danish and a pumpkin muffin on the table next to me, both from the day-old tray at Kue. I also have a cup of lukewarm Myanmar sour tea. However, just drank a cup of kopi Bali at the warung at the opposite end of the trail that runs from the Penestanan Stairs to the road that eventually leads to Ubud. I sat there, watching the women make offerings with canang sari while the men made small talk in the shade. Children from the pre-school screamed every now and then and insects making noises almost constantly,cicadas especially. Doves made their noises. Across the simple road, beneath a very large tree, was a grey structure, a covered shed built of concrete walls. The walls in the front were only about as tall as a man&s chest and there was a gate in the middle. The structure was stark yet attractive. The French architect Le Corbusier would have studied it. Le Corbusier wrote that houses are machines for living, but the structure was a machine for storing garbage, most of it unwrapped. Roosters strutted around or leaped and flew into the structure, looking like rags being tossed when they did. As I drank my coffee two of the roosters(at different times, as though they were on shifts) flew up on the short wall in front and crowed, as though proclaiming themselves guardians and thinking the dogs would be afraid.
I eventually finished my coffee and road back on the twisty trail that passes by the stream where people bathe, past the rice fields, past the luxury hotel that uses a golf cart to transport guests. I parked in front of the shop that does customized beadwork and sells papayas, then walked along the narrow trail that passes Yellow Flower Cafe and Intuitive Flow. Now I sit and review the relationship between my recent life experiences and furikake.
Miso! Man, the miso is serious! It seems to have saved people in Hiroshima.
Mom and I are standing barefooted on the ground, the earthen floor of Bamboo Spirit. There is a yellow silk canopy above that warms and softens the light, giving Mom and me, and everyone and everything here, a faint golden glow.
So yeah, Mom and I sat there in her bamboo house. Along with her husband and the WOOF volunteers, We'd worked all day and eaten a wonderful meal. We had amazake and Sayuri listened to our stories. Mom and I discovered that we'd lived in the same neighborhood in Tokyo and she was a very good friend of Shunchan's.
Bara e, e ma
pictures and words seen by kami;
it's a long old road...
Washed the clay and mud off my boots, kind of liked the muds stains on my blue jeans. Sat on the tatami wearing the green shirt my mom gave me, now with a hole between my shoulder and my heart. We sat there and Mom and I talked. She knew Shunchan very well, shared a bed with him in a nonsexual way and once was asked to pretend to be Shunchan's fiancee so his mother would stop insisting he get married. I'd heard bits and pieces of these stories from Shunchan. Mom and I had very likely waited for trains at Higashi-Nakano station at the same, time, maybe stood together almost touching maybe as we watched the practice sessions in the ninja school across from the station. We both had eaten in the Mongolian tent behind the KFC, where the owner had created a book about a circus and his daughter with autism. Maybe, three decades ago, I had sat at the bar with mom and thought of very lustful things.
A woman fully conscious of the fact that we are all in the same tiny boat on the massive River of Time, sometimes going with the flow, sometimes lost without a paddle.
“Tekka “ means “iron fire.” Tekka miso, roasted in a pan for three hours. Sesame seeds. Coconut oil and palm sugar. Mom and I are talking about the art of food; food as social art. Delicious sculptures and edible haikus. Popcorn as public sculpture. I explained about el Bulli, Documenta and Chinese pastries shaped like thumbprints. Mom told me about the good salt in miso and long fermentation times. We talk about making furikake.