An Unforgettable Meal in Kyoto

 

I experienced an unforgettable meal in Japan thanks to my friend and colleague, Masahiro Ouchi  who suggested that I stay at the traditional ryokan, Kanamean in Kyoto.  It was way more expensive than my budget allowed but I decided that I wanted to have dinner there since it seemed like such a special place.  It was a stretch for me financially, but I decided to go for the 12,000 yen meal (about $140) since I knew it was doubtful that I would ever do it again.

Tatami Dining RoomIt was a great decision and a very interesting experience.

When I arrived,  I was greeted by a charming man and 2 kimono-clad women who escorted me to a private tatami dining room.  I sat on the floor at a low table looking out over a small but beautiful garden. I was brought a small cup of sake with a few yellow chrysanthemum leaves floating in it and some sashimi covered with chestnut.

cropped sashimi w- chestut

In two and a half hours, I was served  an 8-course meal —  each course  more beautiful than the last.   The high points included 3 perfect edamame placed on a leaf ….a tiny, flawless quail egg suspended in fish aspic…4 small slices of the perfect pear delicately topped by a shiso leaf…snapping turtle soup…barracuda sushi (those were the weird things)…sake served in bamboo…..miso soup, rice, & pickles….green tea.

Sake served in Bamboo

Sake served in Bamboo

The food was incredibly healthy and served in minuscule portions (a bite or 2 of a number of things, mostly fish and vegetables) that exploded with flavor in your mouth.  It was beautifully presented on exquisite pottery accented by seasonal elements of the natural world – bright red maple leaves, sheaves of wheat, gingko nuts. Every bite completely delicious and fulfilling. Every bite to be savored and enjoyed.

I’ve traveled all over the world and had many memorable meals  (some of them cooked by myself, friends or family) but this one was unique. Even though in terms of quantity, there wasn’t much of it, around the 6th course, I realized how full I was.  The aesthetics of the presentation and the exquisite flavors combined to provide a fullness of experience that was completely satisfying but difficult to describe.

Server w- Wheat

I know that a meal like this is not for those who are literally starving but it made me think about the place that hunger and satisfaction occupy in our lives.  When we say we’re hungry, are we hungry for food or for something else?

Is it possible to feed ourselves on beauty?

Koi#6, Kyoto, Japan

Koi, Kyoto, Japan

©Photographs by Sharon Smith
All rights reserved

Doi Sakhet Temple in Chiang Mai

Near Tao Garden in Doi Sakhet is a beautiful Buddhist temple that has the most contemporary wall paintings I have ever seen in Thailand.  A young Thai artist took 4 years to paint them and they look like an acid trip was his inspiration.

According to my friend and colleague, Dirk Al (who spent some time as a monk in Thailand), around 70% of the males in Thailand have been monks at one time or another since it is considered part of becoming a man (an initiation to some degree) and there are some families that cannot afford to care for their children. The monastery is considered to be a safe place for them.

Because of the conditioning of the culture around sexuality, men in the monastery receive the Buddhist training that enlightens them to know what to do at the moment of death. Women, well, women on the other hand are left out of the equation.  Their initiation is often prostitution.  So you have this extreme of celibacy on the one hand and prostitution on the other.  Our cultural neurosis has tacitly encouraged and supported this division which began to firmly take hold in Thailand with the American service men who went to Bangkok during the Vietnam War.

You can truly see here the global implication of the mind/body split that is prevalent throughout the world. The western cultures have exported their sexual frustrations and imbalances to Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam with their sex tours and patronizing of the sex industry in these countries which has in turn, supported the sexism of the prevailing organized religion (Theravada Buddhism) here.

Monks eat only one meal a day and they must beg for it. When I am at Tao Garden, we often take an early morning excursion to visit the temple and buy food for the monks. Their chanting is a blessing given to those who feed them.

Bomb Scare at LaGuardia

I was at LaGuardia airport this morning awaiting my flight on United Airlines to Bangkok via Chicago and Shanghai when the airport was paralyzed by an unbalanced individual who was obviously looking for some media attention claimed to have a bomb in his backpack.  As we all know by now, this was eventually proven to be a hoax although a costly one for anyone flying today.

The concourse was evacuated and passengers were herded this way and that until they figured out what to do with us. Finally, after standing around on the runway for half and hour, we were taken to the US Air terminal and told to wait until further notice.

Several hours later it was clear that it would be highly unlikely that I would make it to Chicago to connect to the second flight to Shanghai.  I called United and was put on hold for 30 minutes the first time, spoke to someone, and was again put on hold.  I was told that they were making 2 reservations for me as a backup.  Then followed a series of communications and miscommunications from robocalls.  Everyone told me something different about my flight as well as about my luggage which had already been checked through. Finally, I realized that I should just yield to the situation and wait until tomorrow to take a flight out of JFK   

Although I can understand that this was an unusual situation, the airline seemed ill equipped to deal with the amount of dysfunction something like this can cause. Airline personnel were hard to find, and if you called United, you spent most of the time on hold.  When you did finally reach a real human voice, they were confused about something as crucial as what would happen to your baggage if you took a flight from a different airport.  I was told by 2 people that my baggage would fly on the same plane with me and then when I received another robocall that mistakenly had me on a flight out of Chicago, I reached a baggage agent who said he didn’t have any idea how my baggage would arrive at my destination.

Hello???

This is the 21st century.  Shouldn’t airlines have policies in place to deal with emergencies like this one? 

On another note, this was a perfect manifestation of the Moon in Sagittarius square Saturn in Virgo which was exact at 6:44AM EDT. Not the best aspect for traveling….