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My husband is sometimes under the impression that I am the alter ego of a super hero called Swiss Miss who has the power to repel evil with a blast from her alpenhorn and who finishes off the bad guys with large wooden buckets of milk. Her Appenzell genes make her vulnerable, however, to ingenious traps baited with cheese and particularly to fits of the mopes.

And then she gets angry with herself for getting down. Swiss Miss should be able to pull in her waist cincher, give her alpine breasts a quick lift and adjustment, pick up her wooden yoke, and get back to business. But no, her energy’s sapped. And worse, what about? Not much. Swiss Miss doesn’t have the right to sing the blues. The Universal Justice League says, “You feel down, so freaking what?”

She enjoyed this lovely piece by Joel Johnson from 43 Folders on forgiveness.

Forgive yourself for losing focus. Then forgive yourself for worrying about losing your focus.

Forgive yourself for making unrealistic goals. Forgive yourself for making goals that aren’t big enough to keep you interested. Forgive yourself for doing work that’s not your best. Forgive yourself for comparing your work to the work of others. Forgive yourself for thinking something other than your work might be fun. Forgive yourself for any single thing you find yourself feeling guilty about.

It reminded her of Bill Murray in What about Bob?

Baby step turn off the computer, baby step fold the laundry, baby step leave the house and feel the cool rain on your face. Baby step…


What to choose? Knob Creek? Asahi? Chunky Monkey? A brisk walk through the streets of Taura? Perhaps some Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams.

Eriko shared a Thai eggplant curry with me at lunch and told me you and Tom waved from the deck. Why do you always discourage me from coming down to the pier? Is it because you want your memory of me associated with home, with shared meals and shared drinks, and not the mechanical bulk of the ship?

I picked up Banana Yoshimoto’s “Moonlight Shadow” and I couldn’t stop before the scene on the bridge where the narrator sees a vision of her dead lover waving goodbye. Much like my mistake last year to watch Brokeback Mountain on the day the ship pulled out, I chose another brilliantly terrible story to make me feel your absence even more acutely. You’d think I’d learn and read something cheery—but what? No, I’d transform anything into soft disconsolate tears.

I’d be into Mister Roberts and lose it at “Captain, it is I, Ensign Pulver, and I just threw your stinkin’ palm tree overboard! Now what’s all this crud about no movie tonight?” Or it would be Bull Durham and I’d feel the dull pain of loneliness at “How come in former lifetimes everybody was someone famous? How come nobody ever says they were Joe Schmo?”

Look, I’ll toss you some Kipling if you swear not to mention that sucker Lucasta.

Heh! Walk her round. Heave, ah, heave her short again!
Over, snatch her over, there, and hold her on the pawl.
Loose all sail, and brace your yards aback and full —
Ready jib to pay her off and heave short all!
Well, ah, fare you well; we can stay no more with you, my love —
Down, set down your liquor and your girl from off your knee;
For the wind has come to say:
“You must take me while you may,
If you’d go to Mother Carey
(Walk her down to Mother Carey!),
Oh, we’re bound to Mother Carey where she feeds her chicks at sea!”

—First verse of “Anchor Song”

Carlos has a few days left in port, and then his ship leaves for good, never to return to Japan. The USS Kitty Hawk will be decommissioned after 47 years of service. I will remain in Japan for several more weeks.

Even though Carlos has been home only two weeks, we’ve attended many bittersweet sayōnara dinners. We shared meals with friends. The Yokosuka Chamber of Commerce held a big bash to bid the USS Kitty Hawk farewell. The JMSDF gave a party on its rescue boat/pleasure barge. In Hayama, we ate an elegant kaiseki meal at Hikage Chaya, a 350-year-old restaurant, so Carlos could say goodbye to Japan itself. The past week has been devoted to memorializing our excellent life here.

Red flowers
Photo: Flower pots in Taura.

Today we had a different kind of Memorial Day. We headed into the early summer sunshine and walked through the old streets of Taura. After Chozenji Temple, we turned left and walked up steep steps to the ridge road leading up the next valley.

Farm stall

We climbed up and up, finding small farm plots with little stands offering potatoes, lettuce, onions, and sugar peas: 100 yen per bag on the honor system (change goes in the wooden box).

View of Yokosuka

The top of the hill offered views of Yokosuka and the sea beyond.

Soon we came to Tsukayama Park, which is the site of the tomb of William Adams (or Miura Anjin, in Japanese). You may have read James Clavell’s Shogun, or perhaps you are ancient enough to have watched the mini-series on TV in 1980. The story is based on the life of William Adams, an Englishman who was shipwrecked in Kyushu in 1600.

After Adams was shipwrecked, the first shogun, Ieyasu Tokugawa, made him teach ship building and other military technologies. Adams built the shogun an English-style sailing ship in 1604, and then completed a 120-ton ocean-going ship. In return, Ieyasu gave Adams a fief in Hemi (now in Yokosuka City). Adams married a Japanese woman and had two children with her. He chose to stay in Japan, often acting as a diplomat between Japan and other nations attempting to trade with Japan in Nagasaki. He had some trade and exploration adventures in China and Okinawa before he died in Nagasaki in 1620. There are several monuments to the “blue-eyed samurai”: one where he was shipwrecked in Kyushu, one in Nagasaki, one where he lived in Tokyo, and one near Anjinzuka Station (on the Keikyu line).

Photo: Anjinzuka, the memorial to William Adams and his wife in Tsukayama Park.

Anjinzuka means “burial mound of the pilot” (pilot as in nautical piloting). As I wrote before, Aoi me no samurai (Blue-eyed Samurai) is the local sake named after Adams. Look for it in the Yokosuka area.

Anjinzuka angle

In April, there is an annual festival (usually coinciding with the cherry blossoms) in honor of Adams in Hemi and Tsukashima Park. The park has at least four different kinds of cherry trees.

We walked down along forest paths, surrounded by birdsong and the flickering of white butterflies in the trees. Then we passed neighborhoods built on steep slopes and enjoyed the familiar views of Japanese gardens and lines of laundry. At the Anjinzuka station, we were lured into a restaurant by the aroma of curry and meat.

Buranco lunch
Photo: One of two daily specials at Buranko (“Swing”) Restaurant, next to Anjinzuka Station.

We shared a daily lunch special: menchi (fried minced pork and onion patties breaded with panko flakes, shredded raw cabbage, braised bamboo shoots, potato, and a touch of beef, gobo (burdock root) and carrot kimpira with black sesame seeds, soft poached egg in dashi, and mixed salt pickle of carrot and cucumber. Not pictured: white miso soup with tofu (served in a mug) and a huge bowl of rice. The meal came with a drink and cost 850 yen (about $8.22). The other special was a curry rice set.

(I’m not letting myself think about Carlos’s departure. It’s sometime in the future, but not today.)

Postscript: Well hello! It’s the first anniversary of You, madam, are no Sei Shonagon. Last Memorial Day I wrote my first post on this blog. Thanks for reading and commenting. It’s been fun.

Tsukiji desk

Photo: A fellow list maker at the Tsukiji fish market.

We’re moving to Washington, D.C. in August. It’s official. Carlos has orders. I made all the necessary appointments on base with the Housing Office and Personal Property. Let the paperwork pile! I reserved a room at the Navy Lodge for my last few days in Japan. I will go to Kyoto in June with a friend. Farewell Kyoto! I’m making lists, lots of them, and anyone who knows me well knows when I’m making lists I’m frenetic and happy at the same time. I’m frappy. [Side note: I’m listening to Mary J. Blige’s “Just Fine” and I suggest you join me. It’s frappy good.]

He-of-the-Moustache and I plan to buy a house for the first time. We have lived a delightful, relatively obligation-free life together for almost fifteen years. No kids, no pets. I work in book publishing when/where I can, and when I can’t I find another way to make a little dosh. Over all these years, when the Navy said “move,” we picked up our well-under-the Navy-weight-allowance household goods and rented in fab neighborhoods like Coronado, California (twice); Old Town Alexandria, Virginia; Posillipo, Naples; Marylebone, London; and Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.

Sure, that last one doesn’t fit and it was the only time we lived on a base. Let me tell you, the Air Force knows how to put together a comfy military base. They handed us the keys to a huge house with a laundry room and a third bedroom that sat empty. The only problem we had was Mr. Housing Inspector would issue a ticket if one let the grass get too tall. So, we hired a teenager to mow the lawn. Actually, he hired himself by showing up one day with a lawnmower. When our regular kid moved away, we tried to hire a friend’s twelve-year-old, but our friend was so nervous about his child operating the mower that he and Carlos sat on the front porch and drank beer while the poor kid endured constant critiques of his technique. Being twelve sucks. But I digress…

Moving to Washington and buying a house means I have to learn about: mortgages, loan officers, hiring a buyer broker and not a seller rep, crime maps, looking at comps on, trying not to look (on beltwaymls) at $900,000 townhouses in Capitol Hill (ok, so I peeked, ouch), and deciding where to live.

I’m soliciting advice from all my friends and family. I ordered books on buying a house. I attended a house buying seminar on base. I’m making those lists. But I already know one thing: I want to live somewhere where I can walk to stores and restaurants and parks and farmer’s markets and Metro stops and maybe even museums. All our past great neighborhoods allowed us to walk to restaurants and shops or to hop a bus (or tube or funicular) to whatever city pleasure we desired. That is how I want to live in Washington. My question for real estate agents will be: “What can I walk to?”

Imagine my delight when I found Walk Score, a Web site devoted to scoring neighborhoods on the basis of “walkability.”

We help home buyers, renters, and real estate agents find houses and apartments in great neighborhoods. Walk Score shows you a map of what’s nearby and calculates a Walk Score for any property. Buying a house in a walkable neighborhood is good for your health and good for the environment.

Of course, the Walk Score people admit that the program can’t take into account things like crime and steep hills. Nevertheless, the existence of this Web site makes me think perhaps Americans aren’t all car mad.

A recent NPR report (“Home Prices Drop Most in Areas with Long Commute“) pointed out that the housing crisis has not affected more densely populated mixed-use neighborhoods near downtown areas as much as those drive-only commuter suburbs.

But even in regions that have taken a beating, some neighborhoods remain practically unscathed. And a pattern is emerging as to which neighborhoods those are.

The ones with short commutes are faring better than places with long drives into the city. Some analysts see a pause in what has long been inexorable — urban sprawl.

So, Carlos and I shall be forced to pay a premium to live in Dupont Circle or Capitol Hill or Alexandria or perhaps in one of the “revitalizing” downtown neighborhoods. The housing prices have not decreased very much in walkable neighborhoods inside the Beltway.

I recently wrote a friend about how I wanted to live in the most “European” Washington neighborhood. I was thinking about walkability and about—frankly—cheese shops. Are there any cheesemongers in Washington? I suspect there may be some at the Eastern Market (when they rebuild it). I like mongers. In London, our butcher was a tall, handsome Belgian guy who would smile and wave at me when I passed the shop. Will there be hunky Belgians waving at me in Washington? Probably not. But if you know a place…

The Stash Basks in the Glow of Multi-Course Bliss

The Stash is usually his deployment outfit, grown to mark the days at sea, and also to assert his superior follicle qualities. It disappears soon after he returns home from unknown lands smelling of various petroleum-based fuels and the ocean. That first shower at home to wash off the Navy usually ends with the wielding of the razor. Recently, however, he only had a short stint home and so elected to take The Stash and me to Tokyo for a multi-course dinner.

The Stash also likes to go hiking.

The Stash Goes Hiking

When young, The Stash is violently territorial. When I get too close, it pokes and chafes. As it ages, it finds ways to live peacefully within our overlapping habitats. Knob Creek takes the edge off the Stash burn.

Knob Creek takes the edge off everything.


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