Wednesday, December 12, 2007

from the sublime to the ridiculous!

The past three days have been a blur...and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Monday morning on Okinawa started out much the same as Sunday, with breakfast in the sunshine: eggs, salad, pineapple, rice, and miso. Then Masa-san called us around back to the kitchen to help with supper. He'd promised us a chicken barbeque, and he was just now killing the chickens. We've all heard the expression "running around like a chicken with its head cut off" but that's not entirely accurate. There's very little running involved. Those headless chickens careened violently from a rock to a wall to a tree to the porch, leaving trails of blood as they bounced from one object to the next. Their movement was fast, chaotic, and powerful, and even though I had my camera in my hand, I couldn't bring myself to photograph it. Meat is delicious but death is traumatic. I'm not sorry I saw it, but it didn't feel right to snap the shutter.

Dyer (Cayce's brother) and another guest plucked the three chickens and Masa-san got out his blow torch to burn off any remaining stubble. Next he pulled out a VERY sharp knife and butchered the birds. It was fascinating to see the inside of a whole chicken: stomach, heart, liver, testicles...almost nothing was wasted. I photographed every step, but the images are pretty gory so I'm not sure I should post them here.

Masa-san knew I was a plant person, so he got permission to take us through a friend's garden in the village. Okinawa isn't in the tropics but it sure felt tropical, especially when we picked mini-bananas, kumquats, and a green citrus fruit called shikwasa right off the trees. So many of the plants in the garden are houseplants for us back home; I recognized a lot of old friends.

On the way back to the Minshuku we stopped for fresh greens. Not at a store, no that would be far too pedestrian. We simply leaned over the fence and Masa-san called out to the old lady sitting by her field for an armful of whatever she had. They were delicious and peppery and reminded me of tat-soi, but I don't know what they're called.

Next we piled in the back of his truck (I'm sorry Mom, no seatbelts) and drove to a rainforest trail. We hiked about an hour in, over slippery red clay trails, ending at a giant tree. It was an excellent introduction to the local flora and I wish I'd had a field guide to nail down some of the botanical names of what I was seeing.

Dinner that night was chicken, and I doubt I'll ever get closer to my meat.

Tuesday morning we left bright and early for the airport and flew to Kyoto and dinner at Kiku-noi, a superb Kaiseki restaurant. Cayce and I had lunch there last April, and it was a life-altering meal. This time we splurged on dinner, and fasted all day to make room for what we knew would be an elaborate, seasonal menu. It couldn't have been more different from our dinner the night before, although both were built around fresh, local ingredients. Our dinner at Kiku-noi included sea cucumber and cod roe, duck hot-pot with sweet winter onions, and a warm rice broth w/cod testicles. We couldn't get the waitress to admit to the testicles, but Dyer had a sneaking suspicion, and this morning, at the spectacular Nishiki food market we confirmed our guess when we saw great piles of them laid out for sale.

Also this morning we made a quick visit to Kiomizu-dera, an extraordinary temple in the Hagashiyama section of Tokyo. I'd been during cherry blossom season last April and wanted to see it again in a different light. The morning mists made the views almost absurdly beautiful. A few fading leaves remained on the trees and I felt like I was inside The Tale of Genji where the melancholy you feel upon observing the last leaves of fall is an essential part of their beauty. I don't know when I'll be back, but I'll treasure the memories of this trip forever.

Right now they're calling my flight.


At December 12, 2007 at 12:29 PM , Blogger molly said...

OHMYG! el, i just read each post about your trip and now i'm absolutely convinced--we must go to japan! But, of course, seeing it with cayce's experience is invaluable. You're SO lucky!!! what a beautiful trip--you captured it perfectly for the rest of us...

At December 12, 2007 at 3:15 PM , Blogger Leda Meredith said...

I'm so glad you got to take this trip and that it turned out so wonderfully. And I am that peculiar locavore friend who actually would like to see the chicken pictures.


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