Monday, December 31, 2007

Countdown


Well everybody, I hope you have set your alarm clocks. We are into the countdown to 2008 and it could hardly be better. I am not able to tell you too specifically why beyond saying that things are just so remarkably enjoyable even at this very moment as I type this, you wouldn't believe me even if I could be more specificd.
Um, how specific can I be? Well, the things I had hoped for so long are all around me. And the people who make them possible are as kind and generous and sweet and loving as your wildest dreams could conjur. And in some sense, I have to say thank you to someone who indirectly helped bring all this together by trying to kill me a few months ago.
Rage does strange things to people. It is scary. And in the aftermath, there are doubts and attempts to soften the shock. None of that matters now. She has a bright red coat and a closet full of costumes. Her fantasies come true every month or so by long-distance. All that twisted sense of dreams fulfilled is also waaay past my caring now.
Instead, I see, although not yet clearly, at least so much more brightly than I could a year ago. I am on what you might call the receiving end of bliss. And what could be a better way to start the new year?
I think a toast is in order!. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Peace of mind, good health, happiness, love returned, caring and sharing. They are all out there, and this is even before the new year has begun....how nice is that?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Annus Notsobadus


On one hand, 2007 will go down as a year of dubious note for all the bad things that happened. On the other hand, however, it certainly is closing out on an upbeat note. It's not good to make comparisons, but I can't help but look back on events of the past three months as outstanding in a nice way, after things like death and destruction, blindness, poverty and despair in the first three or so. The middle has become a soft blurr, which is just as well.
So now, we set the table, adding some Oshogatsu touches (The new year will be the year of the mouse or rat, if you are keeping track.), and prepare for quiet, happy times. We'll have a toast to the tail end of the old year and another toast, perhaps with honey or jam, to the year to come. And since I am the optimist of the bunch, I will work on the idea that if things are this good already, they must be about to get even better. Let's see if we can make that happen.
Oh, I didn't forget the gingerbread recipe. It was very good gingerbread, according to authoritative sources, so I will post the recipe after the new year. We're too busy getting ready to tuck in to a raspberry pound cake and some nice spicy Korean barbecue. But we'll get back to you in the new year. Happy holidays to all, and to all a good night.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas Colors



Counting down from today, we have just 10 days until Christmas eve. That will be a special day here (partly because Christmas day is a working day in Japan, unfortunately). It seems most of what I cook these days looks like the Christmas decorations. Tonight's salad, for example, was dark green leafy stuff with baby tomatoes and red and green peppers and white Mozarella. The dessert was fresh strawberries with yogurt and honey. So, to keep a sense of balance not to look like Italian nationalists or Santa's workshop, I made chicken-vegetable stew and garlic toast--which is a great way to recycle old French bread.
Yesterday, I made ginger bread, using a great-grandmother recipe out of Germany, which includes applesauce, but modified with my sense of Asia, using fresh-grated ginger root and, instead of allspice, cardamom, cloves and more cinnamon. And instead of dark molasses, I used kuro mitsu. That's a kind of black molasses, and the flavor....well, the result was pretty good, by my standard. I will get a second opinion from my special friend and let you know. And if she likes it, I will post the recipe. If not..... well, let's see how it goes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Muffins!


I received a sweet pre-Christmas present today: Blueberry muffins. These muffins are special because they were made by a special person. Besides that, I know how she made them, and it is pretty clever, especially for people who may not have or want to buy all the parts to make muffins from scratch. She used pancake mix. And because blueberries are very expensive and not easy to find in Japan at this time of the year, she used dried fruit, soaked in hot water, then sweetened with honey. Very nice.
I appreciate her thoughtfulness and her muffins. At Christmas, people sometimes give gifts or get involved in gift-exchange things without knowing what to give. My advice, if I may offer it, when you are not sure what to give, is to give something you would like to receive. That has an element of the Golden Rule to it, I suppose, but in the worst case, that person will know you have good taste!
Another thought, especially about gift-exchange giving, is to give a few small things, rather than one big one. For example, one friend told mer her office will exchange gifts, and people were told to keep the price within 2,000 yen, or about US$20. Well, that does not buy much in Tokyo these days. It seems that nice and clever gifts can be found from about 1,000 yen and less, and for more than 2,000 yen, but not for 2,000. So I suggested that she buy a 1,000 yen gift, plus some 100 yen gifts to put in a nice bag. Things like bath salts, or sachets or potpouri fragrance things are good. Wine is another nice gift, and even if the person who receives it doesn't drink, they can recycle the wine to someone who does.
So, I'm having coffee and a blueberry muffin now, and saying thank you to the chef!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Adjustments


That huge wad of roses, pine boughs and cotton bolls was just too formidable for the table, so I made some adjustments. What do you think? My dear muffin-making friend says it looks more like a New Year decoration than a Christmas arrangement, but that's alright, because I will need a New Year decoration too. One nice thing about being a foreigner in Japan is that I have the choice of holidays, and I like to observe Japanese events as well as those more familiar to me.
One thing we discussed is the similarity of some events across cultures. Halloween and Thanksgiving come about the same time as the Day of the Dead or Diwli or Obon and similar harvest-time, ghost-welcoming, spirit-honoring, ancestor-revering events in other parts of the world. Christmas and Kwanzaa and Hanukkah come at about the same time, and though they obviously honor different events, some of the customs associated with those holidays are similar, so it is no problem to observe a Jewish festival (which, by the way, ends tomorrow) of light, as well as Christmas and Kwanzaa, the African harvest festival, from Dec. 26, or Norooz from the start of the new year. I was never quite sure what Boxing Day was all about (I thought it was some kind of sports day when I was a kid in Indiana. We obviously didn't get out much.)
So the decorations don't matter too much. Some all-purpose combination of cotton and roses and pine should do for all of them plus any others I don't know about. The important thing at these times is to think of the idea of sharing and respecting each other and basically trying harder to live by the Golden Rule (or whatever you choose to call it in your culture.) All seem to have the same fundamental notion, which is simply this: "Treat others as you would like them to treat you."
As the Dalai Lhama put it, "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."
This holiday season is as good a time as any to put that into practice, don't you think?
Have some of the good feeling of Why Don't You and I, live: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwFTcQMKJDg&feature=related

Monday, December 10, 2007

Cho-Choju Giga


The Suntory Gallery, in Tokyo's new Midtown shopping-office-malling complex, is about to wrap up a fascinating look at what might well have been the first manga, ink illustrations on scrolls, some of which date from the 12th century. The oldest of the illustrations depicts animals doing things people would do-- or would have done 700 or 800 years ago. Most of the scenes involve frogs and rabbits, and you know this is a fantasy, because the frogs are as big as the rabbits, for one thing.
There are other scrolls that show some more straightforward illustrations, such as sketches of religious activities or fables dealing with Buddhism, and even a sequence of what to put it gently might be called an ancient farting contest.
The exhibit drew upon sets of these illustrations compiled by temples and other galleries and museums, and some illustrations that were not included in the scrolls. Historians are still trying to figure out who did the illustrations and why, but they have come up with some guesses and pieced together the illustrations based on what is known so far.
We particularly liked the sumo competition, in which the frog, who has a tummy much like mine, is decked by a fox. There are illustrations of rabbits who might have been the inspiration for the Uncle Remus Br'er Rabbit stories, and pompous priest frogs and wild boars and monkeys giving each other baths--something Japanese monkeys actually do at hot spring resorts, without having to pay.
Viewing the whole exhibit was out of the question, since some of the scrolls were rolled up to reveal other illustrations a week at a time, so it would have involved going back to the gallery weekly.
There are stories, or fables, to go with some of the illustrations, something like Aesop's fables, only more to do with things like a mouse who wanted to marry a human princess, or the farmer who gave up his daughter to a monkey who agreed to help him till his paddies. It's more interesting to see than to write about. But here is what you missed (or will miss unless you get there by Dec. 12.)
http://www.suntory.com/culture-sports/sma/exhibition/07vol04/index.html

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Whoville


Quomodo Invidiosulus nomine Grinchus Christi natalem abrogaverit . Or almost.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

A Brunchtime Journey


"Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper."

This being Dec. 2, another less day before Christmas, I was thinking about the Advent calendar. And this being Sunday, breakfast was brunch. This is a custom I had not observed for several months, until recently, when I found myself making it for two again after coffee and cake in bed to wake up with. A good brunch is the start of a good day.
I was inspired today by an idea from my dear friend: Papaya fruit boats. Actually, my little papayas from Okinawa were only big enough for fruit kayaks, but, as she said, even a kayak can let you sail on a journey wherever you want to go.
I thought about that and about a comment from noted food person Julia Child, who said "You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces - just good food from fresh ingredients." So I made a fancy omelette to go with the papaya kayaks, croissant, orange juice and coffee and thought about where I would like my kayaks to take me.
The destination is Negril, Jamaica. There, you may find some of the best food in the world and, as Julia suggested, made from fresh ingredients. So, in the days before Christmas, since I am back in the mood for food and for taking the time to fix it, I will steal some ideas from the menu of Negril's Rockhouse restaurant, a particularly good place to dine well without spending too much. As my dear friend and I agree, it is much more enjoyable to make food to share with someone than to dine alone. We seem to bring out the culinary creativity in each other, which, I believe, is a fine quality.
You can see the menu here:
http://www.negrilonestop.com/rockhouse/rhrestmenu.htm
And learn more about Negril here:
http://www.negril.com/2/aboutnegril/

And, while Advent calendars are usually for kids, they are not exclusively for kids. I think grownups will get a kick out of trying the quizzes on the interactive Advent calendar. And keep in mind the 24 days of Advent are not like the 12 Days of Christmas, which come AFTER Christmas day. Confused? Well, life is like that.
http://www.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/customs/Xmas/calendar/

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Another Day Before Christmas


I did a bit of Christmas shopping yesterday and at one of the shops, I asked the clerk whether she had gone nuts yet by constant exposure to the same Christmas carols on the background music.
''Not quite, but I think it will happen soon,'' she said.
And I agree, which is why one of the Christmas presents I got myself -- ahead of schedule -- is a little Sony Walkman MP3 player, so I can listen to something other than Christmas carols when I am out of the comfortable confines of home. So I thought it would be nice to see what songs you would rather listen to than Deck the Halls or Jingle Bells ten zillion times.
Here's a little inspiration I got from Youtube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idb2dUtTpuU

As an aside, I am also trying not to get too caught up in Christmas food just yet either. I will do that when it gets down to a handful of days before. But for now, simple fare, such as what's in the picture here (pork chops, potatoes, peas and corn, a salad and some wine, from last night, or the beef stew that's simmering now, will do just fine.
Bon Apetit.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The First Day of Pre-Christmas


On the umpteenth day before Christmas, I am gradually getting into the holiday spirit. Thanksgiving has been my marker for holidays ever since I was a little boy. Then, my memories of the smells of Thanksgiving dinner with a huge turkey, ham, stuffing, orange-candied yams and pumpkin pie in Grandma’s kitchen were enhanced by the fitful beginnings of snow and my Dad and uncles passed out in a post-feast stupor in front of a random football game – usually involving the Chicago Bears or Green Bay Packers, or both.
Now, in Tokyo, the view of Christmas is different, of course. Japan has gradually taken in Christmas as a market opportunity that follows another more recent ''tradition,'' of Halloween. So, just after Halloween, it is time to put up the Christmas decorations. I have resisted. I stand by Thanksgiving as plenty soon enough.
But I am practicing for the real thing. I am considering the menu, having just about cleared away the last of the post-Thanksgiving leftovers. The tree is up and decorated. The table – well, the table is a work in progress, involving experiments with different combinations of candles and flowers, and a gift of cotton bolls on stalks from my special friend.
Christmas won't be what it was when I was a child, of course, or even what it was a year ago. Now, though, I can celebrate it with a glad heart. I can try, for example, to mumble all the words to The Twelve Days of Christmas, which were as hard to remember as the name of the little girl who played opposite Jean Reno in Leon (Natalie Portman).
Now I have them, though, and I share them with you, in the spirit of Christmas:
On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me a partridge in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the third day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Four calling birds, Three French hens, Two turtle doves, And a partridge in a pear tree.
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Five golden rings, Four calling birds, Three French hens, Two turtle doves, And a partridge in a pear tree.
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Six geese a-laying, Five golden rings, Four calling birds, Three French hens, Two turtle doves, And a partridge in a pear tree.
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Seven swans a-swimming, Six geese a-laying, Five golden rings, Four calling birds, Three French hens, Two turtle doves, And a partridge in a pear tree.
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Eight maids a-milking, Seven swans a-swimming, Six geese a-laying, Five golden rings, Four calling birds, Three French hens, Two turtle doves, And a partridge in a pear tree.
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Nine ladies dancing, Eight maids a-milking, Seven swans a-swimming, Six geese a-laying, Five golden rings, Four calling birds, Three French hens, Two turtle doves, And a partridge in a pear tree.
On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Ten lords a-leaping, Nine ladies dancing, Eight maids a-milking, Seven swans a-swimming, Six geese a-laying, Five golden rings, Four calling birds, Three French hens, Two turtle doves, And a partridge in a pear tree.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Eleven pipers piping, Ten lords a-leaping, Nine ladies dancing, Eight maids a-milking, Seven swans a-swimming, Six geese a-laying, Five golden rings, Four calling birds, Three French hens, Two turtle doves, And a partridge in a pear tree.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Twelve drummers drumming, Eleven pipers piping, Ten lords a-leaping, Nine ladies dancing, Eight maids a-milking, Seven swans a-swimming, Six geese a-laying, Five golden rings, Four calling birds, Three French hens, Two turtle doves, And a partridge in a pear tree!
By the way, you may be interested (or not, I don’t care either way) to know that Jean Reno is making a Pink Panther sequel, which includes Steve Martin of course, and features Yuki Matsuzaki, John Cleese and the beautiful Aishwarya Rai.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Count Your Blessings


Things look different when viewed from just one eye. This makes me appreciate the fact that I have one good one while I await the prospect of sight returning to the other. Things like this and other events of the past few months make me especially thankful right now.
I could use the one good eye to prepare for today's Thanksgiving dinner, and there are many other things to put on the list. Way up high is the fact that I have met new people, whom I hope I will call friend in the true sense. Another chart-topper is good health, especially considering the other things that have come along.
There are several other thanks-worthy things that I won't bore you with. Some people who have come and gone from my life have made lasting impressions and given me moments of happiness beyond measure. Others have taught me useful or important or clever things, and these little skills, recalled at the right times, have proven invaluable. I'm learning to be less hasty, even though the clock is ticking. It's worth the time it takes to stop and consider the alternatives. Doing so makes the good things that much better and the not-so-good things less worth dwelling upon.
I have helped others without expecting anything, and, sure enough, have received nothing. I have given things in the spirit of affection and had them flung back at me or shattered before my eyes. I have loved and lost. I have been cheated, robbed, lied to, threatened with death. For all that, I have had others help me without any reason. I have had people give me things in the spirit of affection, sharing and concern. I have been loved. I may be loved again. I have been treated fairly, kindly, and with generosity. I have had expert caregivers help me guard my health. There is a balance. The balance is worth counting as a blessing, I think.
So if you have had or are having or will have Thanksgiving, I hope you reflect on the things you have to be thankful for. And even if you don't observe the holiday as such, I hope you will take time to count your blessings.
While you still can.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Words and Music


Shakira has something for everyone. Fifteen-or-so years ago, I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez in translation, first with Cien Anos de Solidad (One Hundred Years of Solitude), and then Love In The Time of Cholera. Both are love stories. The former, considered the author's masterpiece and the book for which he most justly deserves his Nobel Prize, is a history of Garcia Marquez's native Colombia and, in effect, a history of all Latin America. The second, Amor en Los Tiempos del Cólera, is, in terms of the span of time of the story, half as long as the first, and is a story of a love triangle. The latter, without giving away details to spoil it for you, is now a movie. And although I have only seen the trailer, it seems the film is faithful at least to the spirit of the book for me, with its steamy, dreamlike quality.

And, as I mentioned at the beginning, Shakira, who, as coincidence often plays out with such things, is also from Colombia, does the theme song. Perhaps the words (In Spanish) and the music and the backdrop of scenes from the film, will give you a reason to look for this or any of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's writing. His Florientino Ariza is a hopeless romantic and avid reader, which only fuels his romantic nature in an (utlimately) unrequieted love affair. Well, life is like that. Passion for sure, but, also as in real life, nothing sticks. Maybe true love is the purest form of suffering.

At least have a look at Shakira's video preview:
http://music.aol.com/popeater/2007/11/16/shakira-despedida-video-exclusive/

Patches of Fashion


Daryll Hannah could pull off this eyepatch thing and look brutally sexy. When I do it, I look like Santa as a weekend pirate. I think I am not the eye-patch type, or at least I haven't found any fashion eye patches that have the right look. This is especially hard to make work as a fashion statement when you have to wear eyeglasses.
Eye surgery to repair a detached retina in my right eye went well, the doctor says. By well, she means I can see a kind of watery light in my right eye, and she tells me the liquid that makes images look like I am half-submerged and the gas that keeps up the pressure inside the retina so it will (eventually, if not sooner, we hope) stick to the inside of the eyeball, will gradually fade away. I am not sure what it will leave me with, in terms of being able to see again, but that is for later.
For today, I am still mostly face-down, except for this brief interlude for breakfast and a pee break before being face down again. Tomorrow, the stitches (yes, stitches on the eyeball) come out, and we shall see (har har) what I can do about getting on with life. Thanksgiving is coming, and believe me, I am thankful I can even see the watery light, which is much better than being in darkness. And I am thankfull I still have a pretty good left eye.
I almost look forward to being able to see Kill Bill 2 again if I could do it with proper eyesight. Being basically blind in one eye and able to see only vaguely without correction in the other is not a way I would like to serve out the rest of my time if I have a choice. Unfortunately, eyes, once damaged, are harder to recover full use of than other body parts. so take care of your body parts--all of them.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Eye Candy


Life would be a lot more pleasant if things would stop breaking. My most recent medical encounter was eye surgery today to repair a detached retina in my right eye. I write this little entry with a patch. I should be face down on the bed now so the operation can do its work to (I hope) restore some vision.
This sort of thing usually happens as the result of a sharp blow to the head. I have not had one of those in about five months, when I got whacked on the head with a dinosaur, so I am pretty sure that isn’t the cause. The doctor said the main thing is not the cause but the cure, so I should focus (har har) on obeying the rules of recovery. That means I should not be writing this, but I thought it might be a good cautionary tale, reminding those who read me to take care of eyes. I have learned a lot in the past three days about how difficult it is to function without good vision. I am fortunate to have good care and prompt surgery. Dr. Sano says I have a good chance of recovering my sight, or at least most of it. That sounds really nice right now.
By the way the eye in the U.S. dollar bill, grotesque as it seems, is part of the Great Seal of the United States, adopted by Congress June 20, 1782. It may have something to do with Masonic symbolism, as we were told by Nicholas Cage and friends in National Treasure. Then again, it may just be because Masons were fairly well represented when the United States was founded, with George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and probably others, among the members of the order, and those symbols were a lot better-known than they are now. Anyway, the eye was considered important enough to make it to the dollar bill, so I reckon eyes are important enough to take good care of, too. One piece of advice I can give for free is that if you notice that your vision is blurred or impaired in any way, get a thorough eye exam from a competent eye specialist (not the corner contact lens shop!!). There are several things that could cause your vision to fail, and I hope you don’t have any of them.
The National Eye Institute has more to say on this subject:
http://www.nei.nih.gov/health/retinaldetach/index.asp

Friday, November 02, 2007

光歩, La Luz De La Aurora


I was humming a couple of songs today. It's something I haven't done in awhile, and I take it as a good sign. One that is still in my head is Carole King's You've Got a Friend. The notion of friendship and where it starts and how far it stretches has been on my mind recently as sails on the distant horizon.
Ok, songs and poems and images. One of the images in my head is of Claude Monet's ''Sunrise,'' which is, as irony would have it, a painting of boats on the horizon at dawn in the harbor at Le Havre. It was a painting he did two years before an exhibition of what came to be known as Impressionism--a term he disliked immensely. Critics chose Sunrise as the target of scorn for the style that Monet and colleagues used to show light.
Monet, not surprisingly, was subject to radical mood swings, which I think we would probably call bipolarism these days. When he was up, his work showed it. One of the problems he had was cataracts, which dimmed and muddied his sense of color, both in the way his sight was impaired, and in the way he painted. Look at a body of his work next time a Monet exhibition comes your way and see how light dimmed in his work and how it re-emerged after he had corrective surgery.
This wasn't about eye problems or even mood swings, but about friendships and where they can go. I am not really sure, despite many trials and errors. But I have a good feeling, which I am guarding like the eternal flame right now, about the dawn that I faintly perceive on the horizon.
Yes, I am preternaturally optimistic. But a serendipitous encounter recently brought something sweet at the conclusion of an otherwise not-very-good day. A return engagement is on the horizon too, so to speak, and I am looking forward to it as nothing I have anticipated in months.
So Carole King's lines about doubt and trouble and needing a helping hand are all valid, of course. And when I see or say the name in the title of this particular entry, I get the clear sense that the hand is being extended. It is the hand of friendship. It is light on the horizon. I pray that it will shine brightly for a very, very long time.

Monday, October 29, 2007

No Tenga Nade


No Tenga Nade

There was a second party, less ambitious this time, to pay a little tribute to Carlos Santana (I got the Ultimate Santana CD). We had wine (Sangre de Toro—blood of the bull, and Nerola White Catalunya) and Paella. Yes, it’s Spanish, but we just had Mexican stuff (Santana was born in Mexico) just a couple of weeks ago, so this was just for variety. Instead of the traditional pan, I used a wok to make the Paella, but nobody seemed to mind.
The guests were fewer in number than at the Day of the Dead party, and more contemplative—maybe the wine does that—and the conversation began with an appreciation of Santana’s musical contributions over the past 40-some years. His music, at least what I know of it, started with a combination of jazz and blues and roamed the world, in collaborations with Buddy Miles, John Coltrane and Miles Davis, touching on east Indian music and even Willie Nelson tunes. Now, we have the new album that more or less pulls together the best, with some new ones. My favorite for the moment anyway is Into the Night, with Chad Kroeger of Nickelback. Santana also works with Jennifer Lopez and Steve Tyler, Michelle Branch, and even Tina Turner (The Game of Love).
And the album includes remasters of Black Magic Woman, Europa, and Oye Como Va. We had Abraxas and several other Santana CDs, but we pretty much came back to this one, because it has most of the good stuff, including a minor hit off his Santana II, No One to Depend On. (The title of this Blog entry in Spanish.)
And we got talking about friendships. Here we are, a mix of folks from England, Canada, the U.S. and Japan, who find ourselves in a chat in Tokyo about a musician we all admire. And in this setting, we have a basis for friendship. No one to depend on? Well, it depends on what you want of a friendship, doesn't it? And it depends on how dependent you are upon friends to get you through your own life.
I say, at this stage, that if you can count friends on one finger, let alone one hand, you are indeed fortunate. Some people use the word friend too easily. I have many acquaintances, but very few friends, and even fewer upon whom I would choose to depend. Fortunately, despite all the stupid things I have done in my life, those I call friend have stuck with me. All save one. I still regard her as a friend, but I have been wrong many times before.
What did I do to lose that one? I lied. Would you lie to spare a friend grief? Well, it goes against my most basic principle, but I have done it, and I would do it again. Am I going to burn in hell for it? Maybe that's why I could appreciate Santana even more, because there is much that is positive in his work. If you get a chance to see the video (There have been copyright problems with posting it on YouTube, I see), I think you can understand what I'm talking about here. The producers of the video tell a nice little story of how to get beyond despair. Try this one http://music.aol.com/popeater/2007/09/11/video-premiere-santana-teams-with-chad-kroeger/. See what you think. Invite a friend. (Even one)

Monday, October 22, 2007

In Vino Veritas


Japan is the world's second-largest economy, but is certainly second to none when it comes to the effort it puts into retailing. Where else could you find people waiting in a neat, security guard-controlled line for two hours to buy Krispy Kreme donuts?
For some reason I don't understand, donuts are a very fickle bellwether of retailing trends in Japan. Almost as fickle as ice cream. Dunkin Donuts pulled away from Japan a dozen years ago, to have most of its store locations taken over by the Yoshinoya beef-bowl chain. They left the field to Mr. Donuts, which is run by a company that distributes doormats and here sells Chinese dim-sum and noodles. And now, thanks to the newly opened Yurakucho Itocia shopping and office complex a short walk from Tokyo's Ginza district, we have Japan's second Krispy Kreme outlet. And people are willing (or were last Friday) to line up for the policeman's choice.
Also in the underground shopping and food portion of Itocia is a neat little wine shop that was featuring wine from thousand-year-old grapes. You may not believe me, but I was more interested in the display at Vinos Yamazaki than in standing in line two hours for donuts. There is a wine-tasting bar much like we find at wineries, where, at least in the first few days, we could get free samples. Now, the bar charges for samplings of up to 10 featured wines, and offers a nice variety of cheeses from the selection nearby.
The thousand-year-old grape come-on worked well for me, as I was in the market for pretty good, not-very-expensive wine for a party. What goes well with Mexican food? I can say that one answer is the Orvieto. It's trendy enough that Frank Prial wrote about it, and it seemed to disappear quicker than the Yellowtail, although to be honest, all the wine vanished before the night was done. (So did the tequila and most of the rum, and I could swear I had another bottle of shampoo somewhere.)

For more about the wine: http://www.bevnetwork.com/monthly_issue.asp?date=7/1/2007

While I am on a full-disclosure kick here, I should admit that perhaps part of the reason people came to my party is because I profess to be good at cooking and know a little bit about wine (with help from friends who know waaay more than me). I could establish the cooking cred, but it wasn't until I popped the corks on the ancient-grape wine that people, especially the young ladies present, began to notice I was in the room (It was, after all, MY party.)
I remember the clever Latin quote on the labels of one of my favorite wines, the fine Zinfandel produced by Doug Nalle, family and friends and kept in a rosemary-covered bunker in the Dry Creek area near Healdsburg, California. ``Vinum sapientium tibi dat. (Wine makes you think you're smart.)''

See more about Doug's wine labels here: http://www.nallewinery.com/labels.html

Now I have another important insider tip on the benefits of wine from Dr. Ruth, to the effect that wine also makes you sexier. Or at least knowledge of wine makes you more attractive to the opposite sex. I admit that once people get a few glasses of wine down, everybody at least seems a little bit sexier. Anyway, Dr. Ruth should know. She is the author of Sex for Dummies, The Art of Arousal, Dr. Ruth's Guide to Erotic & Sensuous Pleasures and Dr. Rruth's Guide to Good Sex, among others. (I kept my copy of Sex for Dummies hidden away during the party.)
Maybe I should keep this hidden away too, but here are a few tips on how to seem sexier:
1. Learn about wine and drink lots of it. (Remember that it's wine knowledge, not just the wine, that makes you sexier.
2. Go to wine tastings and pay attention to more than just the wine. They are worth the price, even in Japan, because there are hordes of singles at large. When you find (or corner) an appealing suspect at the same table, strike up a conversation. Ask what they have tried and what they like. Offer your recommendations. Maybe more will come of it if you follow up with a date invitation that involves sharing wine.
3. If you get the chance for a second date, wine and roses make a memorable combination. If you get the chance, ask beforehand whether your date prefers red or white.
4. Don't assume too much about your date's wine knowledge if you don't know (and don't waste a nice bottle on an evening that might end up being a downer).
5. Convince one of your friends to hold a singles wine tasting party. Go.
6. Take a wine class and be nice to the cute people in it. Don't be a know-it-all; ask them, and LISTEN to their ideas.
7. Never, ever get sloppy drunk on wine with someone you haven't had sex with yet, unless that is the goal.

(Read about Dr. Ruth Westheimer's notions of sex, wine and videotape here: http://www.winexmagazine.com/index.php/wine/viewplay/dr-ruth/

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Un Chocolat


My momma always said, "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."
A bartender I don't like at all once compared me to Forrest Gump. He doesn't know me, and I prefer that our paths never cross. If he knew what would most likely happen, I'm sure he would feel the same. But I believe that he was trying to say I was like Forrest as the guy always trying to rescue a certain someone the bartender has known in the Biblical sense. Forrest's Jenny didn't want to be saved. She did everything she could to avoid it, in fact, and, at least in the book, and the movie too, Jenny was a real slut.
But Jenny was a slut with a good heart. Only when it was too late did she realize what she kept running away from and why. So the bartender's reference point of the story of Forrest Gump has some perilous analogies. If he really knew the detail, he would probably realize there was more Jenny in his remark than there was Forrest.
What angers me now enraged me once, especially because he and I were both painfully aware of Jenny's condition, is that Jenny continues to enjoy indulging her fantasies and fetishes, seemingly without any concern for the consequences. Ask her and she might even admit she feels more free now than ever in her life, because she thinks nobody cares and nobody will try to stop her. These little indulgences, which she tells herself are simply harmless, sexy costume fantasies, whether with her Prince Charming or someone else, are in fact the same kind of high-risk activity that got her in trouble before, although it now involves a different kind of risk.
Before, she might have considered the risk to her health, mental and psychological, but didn't. She might have considered the risk of being tossed out of room and board. Now, it seems, that no longer matters either. The analogy to Forrest Gump's story breaks down at that point, though, because Forest is disinclined to welcome Jenny back into his life.
So, Forrest's Momma was right. Life often is like a box of chocolates. You have to eat whatever you pull out.
Sometimes you DO know what you're gonna get, and you go ahead and take it anyway, don't you?
Sugar Daddies
I show my age when I reflect on the sweets we used to buy at the general store when I was a kid. One I remember is the Sugar Daddy, caramel suckers that cost just two cents each in those days and lasted a very long time. Besides being sweet, they were almost guaranteed to help with extraction of baby molars.
The candy name, as far as I can tell, has nothing at all to do with the painful (for both, eventually) relationship between a Sugar Daddy and a Sugar Babe. It’s one thing to go out with guys who don't seem to have enough money to even pay for the coffee or condoms, let alone a love hotel or roses. And it's quite another to be in a relationship where the guy pays for literally everything – everything from room and board and cute little costumes to shoes and clothes and undies and ear piercing and Brazilian waxes and medical care.
But why stop there? A girl who realizes she is sitting on a gold mine doesn't have to dream of a Sugar Daddy who will do it all without complaining, sometimes several times a day. She can find one on what was probably the first of several similar personal dating sites: http://www.sugardaddyforme.com/. The site pairs nubile young ladies who want a lover, an extramarital fling or just to be pampered and shown off, with wealthy, caring older men of means. For the young lady who wants to be treated like a princess, this simple link to the oyajis who have it all looks a lot more promising than the other casual dating sites. For one thing, it is upfront about its matchmaking without being too sleazy.
Fling with bling? Well, having thrown all the other cautions to the wind and still having a few good years to go, why not? After all, life is like a box of chocolates, isn't it?
A little chocolate never hurt anybody, did it?
http://www.hersheys.com/

Saturday, October 06, 2007

All The Lonely People....Where Do They All Belong?


The Beatles knew something about isolation, even when surrounded by countless adoring fans. Scientists now know that the Beatles were also onto something in their assessment of Eleanor Rigby:

``All the lonely people, where do they all belong?''

Maybe they belong in a doctor’s office. Research by a team of University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine scientists shows increased risk of cancer, heart disease and infection among people without family ties or close friends.

The research is the first to trace the genetic sources of emotion through detection of small variations in DNA.
The objective of the research was to find out how genes and immune-system inflammation are linked to loneliness or isolation. Physical changes tied to social isolation put people at risk of death. Eleanor Rigby could live to a ripe old age if she were more social, or if she could get the right medication.
Stress generates a hormone called cortisol, and when the stress is constant, the cortisol level is elevated so long among lonely people that their bodies can’t even feel it. They are, in effect, in a ‘’cry wolf’’ syndrome. Or ‘’cry lone-wolf’’ syndrome, perhaps. It means the body gets so accustomed to the cortisol secretion that the chemical just doesn’t work right anymore. And the lonely person get more depressed because they get ill, and the cycle continues.
This means the body’s bacteria-fighting abiity and virus-invasion resistance decline. The research, using so-called DNA microarrays, enabled scientists to look at many genes at once and see the long-term effects of loneliness at the molecular level.
The reasons people avoid other people are legion, of course. I let myself get into a state of semi-isolation be being too devoted to one person. That person isolated herself because of a series of traumas dating from childhood. When we were together, we both felt more secure. When that person left my life, she had to immediately know that she had someone else to turn to or face even more serious depression and, most likely, illness brought on by diminished resistance.
Alone suddenly, after being so wrapped up in her needs day and night for more than three years, I was so alone that I had to either get very ill or find a way to be more social. Our bodies, without too many interruptions, are remarkably sensitive and informative. We just need to listen harder.
Maybe it’s a good time to pull out those Beatles CDs and have a little party.

Postscript: The corticosteroid hormones produced in the adrenal gland are generated to counter stress. Cortisol in particular increases blood pressure and blood sugar levels and suppresses the immune system. It helps prepare the body for the flight-or-fight response to a crisis. Synthetic cortisol is called hydrocortisone, and doctors usually ask whether a patient has high blood pressure or diabetes before administering it.
I learned many things about cortisol and other hormones during the now-broken partnership. One was that cortisol, in addition to being closely linked to stress and especially to depression and hysteria, is also affected by a person’s waking and sleeping patterns. The normal diurnal rhythm of waking by day and sleeping by night can get really cockeyed in someone with an oversecretion of cortisol and get even more depressed early in the morning, then sleep during the day to overcome the sense of over-tiredness that comes after a stressful (panic) situation. Panic doesn’t have to be a car crash either. Depressed, isolated, lonely people can be whipped into a frenzy of crisis emotions by a bad dream, or even the thought of falling asleep and having a bad dream. This makes lonely people insomniacs too. It is not a pretty picture.
As with other hormones, cortisol is also affected by the category of medications called serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Adrenocorticotropic hormone, or ACTH in excess, or the opposite, can mess with the effectiveness of medications usually prescribed for depression, sleep-inducing medications, and medication prescribed for people subject to seizures. Women are more likely than men to have depression, panic disorder and immune system disorders. Therefore, unfortunately, most birth-control pills can also have a dangerous side effect when used in combination with the serotonin-reuptake inhibitors or the anti-depressants that are prescribed to put the body back on track. Side effects, apart from weakening of the immune system, are liver or kidney disorders, indigestion, and such things as bruising easily.
There are fairly simple warning signs of the feeling of loneliness, isolation and depression. And there are tests, hopefully to be enhanced by the results of research being done on cortisol, to enable doctors to help people adjust better to the world around them. Maybe partying isn’t the answer. But it is also certain that isolation isn’t the answer either.
Read more about how the brain deals with stress, and the consequences in terms of the body’s ability to fight illness, here: http://www.fi.edu/learn/brain/stress.html


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Kokoro to Waga Jinsei No Ai


I write this with an unfashionable black thing hanging from my neck a few days before Sports Day, a national holiday in Japan to call attention to the importance of fitness and good health.
The thing around my neck is a Zymed DigiTrak-Plus 48 ECG monitor which checks my heart rate, the rhythm and so on and records the data to be downloaded tomorrow midday when I take it back to the hospital. I got it after a scary episode early in the day that reminded me yet again of John Lennon’s maxim that life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.
It was not a heart attack. I spent a good deal of time on a gurney while at least three emergency room doctors and nurses and aides drew blood, X-rayed me, checked muscle tone, blood chemistry and gas (yes, blood has gas, put me on a glucose drip and even gave me nitroglycerin (It comes in handy spray dispensers now). In addition to the usual prodding and poking and question-and-answer drill, I went feet-first into ultrasound, where two heart specialists watched my heart from all known medical perspectives.
It turns out they missed one, which Dr. Hasegawa (I should call him sensei from here on), a bright young cardiologist, discerned very quickly after seeing that all the tests found that I not only have a good heart (in the sense of being sound and viable, especially for my age) and almost-clear lungs (especially especially for my age), but am about 90 percent not likely to have a heart attack.
It’s the other 10 percent he is concerned about. He diagnosed my situation as anxiety disorder. This is a general term to describe a variety of conditions, which you could read more about here:
http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders/complete-publication.shtml.
When sensei looked at the findings of the ER team, checked my vitals and blood pressure again and showed me how to properly take my own pulse, he asked me questions. My ‘’episode’’ hit about an hour into my work day, and there was nothing particularly unusual about the work or other environmental factors. I don’t do drugs, and I have not had any alcohol for a few days, so he wanted to know whether there had been any traumatic The first thing I realized was that I had awakened the night before in a sudden burst of panic followed by depression so strong it made me cry.
This was a dream about the former significant person in my life, whom I shall refer to simply as waga jinsei no ai.
When I explained that waga jinsei no ai had left me some months ago, and that I love her deeply and I worry about how she is doing (shinpai suru). As I described some of the other things going on in my life, especially since that person left, sensei smiled and told me in English, ‘’Please don’t worry. You are fine.’’ He returned to Japanese to tell me that these conditions are not unusual when people have some deeply emotional event in their lives. Usually, people try to restore the balance, at least superficially, and get on with their daily lives. But sooner or later, as with my heart and I this morning, those events catch up with us. The effects vary widely. In my case, one of the effects is that I carry this heart monitor around.
Even after I take it off tomorrow, and no matter what the data show, I will always know that the heart, although simply a sophisticated muscle-powered blood pump, is also universally recognized as the seat of our emotions. Not the brain. Not the sex organs. The heart.
The heart.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Un-Bearable Lightness of Being


Remember the words? More than the words, remember what's behind them? They're not just soundbites that sold records. They are straight from the heart.

This is a sequel to the ''Tupelo Honey'' blog, which shows how my mind works –- hop, skip and jump from one part of the map to another.What I started to do was simply listen to some of those old Elvis songs.
Problem is, some of them are like songwads stuck in my brain from a not-so-distant experience, and I cannot, no matter what else I do, get them to go away. Simple. Remember Elvis doing ''My Baby Left Me:''

Yes my baby left me,Never said a word.Was it something I done,Something that she heard?
My baby left me,My baby left me.My baby even left me,Never said a word.
Now I stand at my window,Wring my hands and cry.I hate to lose that woman,Hate to say goodbye.
You know she left me,Yes, she left me.My baby even left me,Never said a word.

A little video interlude here, just to remind you what it was like:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1qCebD0OkE&mode=related&search=

And then there is, inevitably, for all the Elvis songs, ''Heartbreak Hotel:'’
Well, since my baby left me, I found a new place to dwell.Its down at the end of lonely street at Heartbreak Hotel.
Although its always crowded,You still can find some room. Where broken hearted loversCry away their gloom.

See the original 1956 TV performance hre:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1Qo1eaWF8c

Yes, for those of you who asked after the last few entries, I am keeping busy, and my health is preternaturally good:
Lots of good cholesterol, very little bad cholesterol, not enough exercise, but way better than many 64-year-old sedentary bastards.
But, and this is a big-ass but...

.. I do still come back to the empty, dark apartment that I got for the two of us.
And yes, I am lonely, more than I would have expected. This morning, I was...what's the word? startled? Jolted awake by a vivid and too-realistic dream that she was beside me, and then I had another jolt in which I felt her hit me, then run away again. This keeps replaying in my brain.

Even with the company of other nice people, I fall back on the basic fact that she’s gone and I have too much time on my hands.
So I got a new CD player, so I can sing along with some of those generational songs that recall the things you and I and everyone we know has shared when we felt so desperately, pathetically alone, even in the company of our dear friends. I didn't just lose a person I shared the apartment with. I lost my dearest friend (Yes, I lost other friends in the process, but if so, they were not true friend anyway, so sayonara. But SHE matters!!
And even when we realize that our dearest of all dear friends is the one who left, we are stuck. The musicians, like Elvis, and the composers who saw and experienced and felt the stuff that went into the lyrics Elvis and others have sung about what it is like to be on the wrong end of a breakup, it is tough to get a grip on. (There was Arthur Crudup, a prolific Country & Western dude waaay before even my time on ‘’That’s All Right Mama’’ and ‘’My Baby Left Me,’’ for example, and Tommy Durden and Mae Boren Axton for ‘’Heartbreak Hotel,’’ the first song Elvis made for RCA after Sun Records sold the rights to his work for $35,000—the best deal RCA Victor ever made!

So I was listening to my birthday gift to myself and then shifted fast-forward 20 or 30 years to the Chicago era—so How about them Bears, eh? I once made my former partner a CD that included Chicago and the Beach Boys doing ‘’Wishing You Were Here’’ Before she left, she broke it and some others into shards and threw them at me. It hurt—cut, in fact—but it did not diminish my feeling for her one bit. There are so many Chicago lyrics that cut right to the car crash when it comes to burrowing through emotional stuff. Love, about to happen, happening, in danger, gone, hoping to get it back……all that stuff. So it is nice to have the performers and the creators behind them, through the generations. They remind us we are not alone. However lonely we may be, either hoping for love, hoping it is real, fearing we’re gonna lose it, losing it, hoping to get it back, on the brink of despair at not getting it back and all the shades in between. God love you all.

Steve Kipner and Jay Parker’s ‘’Hard Habit To Break’’ makes people think more carefully about the importance of someone more special than anyone else in our lives—even our own selfish friggin selves!!. To that someone:
I guess I thought you’d be here forever/

Another illusion I chose to create
You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone
And I found out just a little too late/
Now being without you takes a lot of getting used to
Should learn to live with it, but I don’t want to.
Now living without you is all a big mistake/
Instead of getting easier, it’s the hardest thing to take.
I’m addicted to you baby, you’re a hard habit to break.

The performance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsDAEWBuiWo&mode=related&search=
From Tupelo to Memphis and Chicago and Fukuoka and Tokyo and beyond—way beyond.

I know you’re out there somewhere
(Omygod, Moody Blues? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAhGERg5iPg)

For Chicago and the Beach Boys doing a live version of ‘’Wishing You Were Here,’’ check this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BCdELHOUpw&mode=related&search=

If you have read this far, by now, you must know I love you!
And Peter Parker brings it home:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KcV0HGL4Kg&mode=related&search=

Sunday, September 16, 2007

History in a Tortoise Shell


On the surface, history is just a record of social contact and/or conquest. Take condoms, for example. Condoms are as old as civilization, having turned up in Egyptian artifacts from around 3,000 B.C. in ways that aren’t clear whether they were used in religious ceremonies or for personal hygiene. The early condoms were made of linen or other fabric and were intended to protect men from catching a venereal disease. They were never intended to prevent pregnancy.
In Japan, condoms were made of leather (kawagata) and other materials, even including tortoise shell (ouch) and animal horn (Maybe that’s where the expression ‘’I’m horny’’ originated?). History suggests the sayogoromo, or ‘’small pajamas,’’ the early condoms used in Japan, were brought from China.
In 1848, the first ‘’rubbers:: were made of latex, and they were first advertised in The New York Times in 1863. By the early 1920s, artificial latex was discovered and as the roaring ‘20s gave way to the swinging ‘30s, more than 1.5 million condoms a day were being made in the United States.
As I noted in the earlier Blog entry, condoms now come in colors and flavors, as well as having different shapes, textures and clever little appendages, with the aim of making condom use more appealing to protect against a groundswell of STDs.
In Japan, the world’s biggest per-capita consumer of condoms, more than 600 million are sold in Japan annually, and more than 5 billion are sold annually worldwide. One little bit of trivia is that Fuji Latex, the biggest of Japan’s ‘’Big Three’’ condom makers, has its headquarters building in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward shaped like a giant condom (or like something that could be covered by a giant condom, at least.)
Japan’s modern condom industry had a slow start. Around the turn of the 20th century, most condoms were imported from the United States, and did not catch on until the Showa Era was well underway. A specialist in forensic medicine, Dr. Giichiro Takeda, wrote that condoms then, as now, were rejected because they limited sexual satisfaction (which I have to say is not true.)
Japan:s first manufactured condom was the Heart Bijiin (heart beauty,) made by Hosaburo Inoue in northern Tokyo by dipping sections of bamboo into latex, drying them, inflating them and dusting them with mica. The early ones often broke, we are told.
For all the condoms purchased in Japan and the rest of the world, though, there is still a scary amount of sexually transmitted disease around. I did not feel particularly relieved to read last week, for example, that there seems to be a global epidemic of risky sex planned over the internet. I already know more about that than I wanted to know. The newest report is from Melbourne, where doctors say they are fighting a reemergence of syphilis, according to Kit Fairley, director of the Melbourne Sexual Health Center. And syphilis is an STD we thought was among the diseases of the past. It turns out that it is, however, alive and spreading, among non-condom-wearing people who have vaginal or anal sex, or even during oral sex and mutual masturbation. I hope it is a coincidence that about 90 percent of the Koalas in Australia have a disease very similar to human forms of syphilis.

Good Grief

Another footnote on depression is that it’s not always easy to tell when a person is actually afflicted by bipolarism or is just going through mood swings and denial. Often, people who need help the most are those who are the most reluctant to admit it. This is not just me ranting again. If you wonder whether your mood swings are going to make you go crazy, just remember that many people have nowhere else to go.
The more I read on bipolarism, the more depressed I feel. No, that is not a joke. My depression in this comes from the fact that I couldn't really help someone dear to me overcome some serious problems that are usually associated with bipolar disorder. Of course I am not a specialist, and the fact that I am not a specialist is another reason i feel so frustrated about this.
I've written about bipolarism, which used to be called manic depression, because some of the mood swings associated with it are just what we all go through now and then. But for some people, these swings are excruciating, and can lead to or be associated with even worse problems. But don’t listen to me. Learn more about grief, guilt association, bipolarism and the causes and effects in this straight-up information presentations:
http://willigocrazy.org/Ch06a5.htm. It’s also worth noting that when more common medications don't seem to help, there are more scary ways to treat depression:http://www.anxiety-and-depression-solutions.com/articles/conventional/pharmaceutical/maoi.ph

Arty-facts


The big stone head in the photo (no, the other one) is a Moai, a ceremonial stone figure from Easter Island that is currently on exhibit at the Marunouchi Building in central Tokyo, where I work. This Moai is one of 887 of the Rapu Nui statues and is on loan to mark the fifth anniversary of the building, ( http://www.marunouchi.com/festival/) which is a pretty neat place to eat, shop and work, by the way, and the 10th anniversary of whatever it is the Chilean-Japan friendship organization has been doing for the past decade. Now that I don't have such a high cost of living to deal with, I might spring for a related event, a Chile food and wine fair, at the Imperial Hotel. Cheers.
There's more about the history of Easter Island civilization and the big stone monuments on the PBS Web site:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/easter/civilization/giants.html

Monday, September 10, 2007

Aural Sex


Viewer Advisory:

This Blog entry refers to sexual behavior that may be considered objectional or offensive to some people. If you are one of those people, don't read it. But the context of the potentially objectionable references is a health warning against promiscuous and unprotected sex, so you might consider the objectionable parts worth bearing for the more important stuff about health.


Ok, moving on:


I’m not a Scotch drinker, so I was not terribly upset some years ago when researchers told us there was a higher risk of certain kinds of cancer among Scotch drinkers because of the way good Scotch is cured (in charred casks). Not long after that, however, I did get upset at learning there is a higher risk of certain kinds of cancer among people who eat crispy (really brown) bacon, for the crispy part (charred, I suppose) and for the way bacon is usually cured (brine-soaked and smoked a long time).
Medical science is wonderful, because it applies other sciences to the daunting task of healing and discovery of things that make us need healing. Therefore, on one hand, as a person who has gone through cancer surgery twice, I think it is good to know what other potential cancer causes are out there.
But I never thought there would be such grave cancer risks in my favorite indoor sport untilI read a recent report that links oral sex and cancer. I am not making this up. The research on this and similar findings is widely documented, as in the particular report I read in New Scientist (Read it here:
http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn11819)
The really scary factor is the strong linkage between oral sex and HPV (human papilloma-virus, which is a cause of cervical cancer.
In other words, before going any further, consider this a warning to both sexes: Ladies who have performed felatio on more than five partners are 250 percent more likely to contract throat cancer than those who don’t do oral sex. And men who have any of the more than 80 forms of HPV are more likely to pass the virus to their sex partners through oral sex than vaginal sex.
And men who have an HPV and who perform vaginal sex are considered extremely high risk for their partners in making them vulnerable to cervical cancer. Two HPV strains in particular, HPV 16 and HPV 18, are the most likely suspects so far, according to the most recent research.
(Learn more about HPV and the research here;
http://www.oralcancerfoundation.org/facts/humanpapillomavirus.htm)
But it’s all another way of saying that fellatio, however much we enjoy it, and its equally pleasurable counterpart cunnilingus, are risky forms of behavior without protection. In this case, there are two kinds of protection. Condoms and vaginal sheaths are one kind. Another kind is common sense, which I wrote about here in an earlier Blog entry.
The common-sense notion I have in mind here is that we all need to be careful about our health, including our sexual health, and we need to make sure that our sex partners are doing the same thing. This is just another application of the Golden Rule: Do unto others, or, in this case, do into others, as you would want them to do unto you. Monogamy, in the sense of being faithful to one partner, rather than promiscuous sex, is one way to apply the Rule. And with that, there is the obligation to have regular health checks, because viruses travel in many ways, and even people who are clean in their daily ablutions can pick up viruses that easily make a new home in our bodies and seek new homes in the bodies of our partners.
The risk of viral infection is especially high in the genitals (penis and vagina) and in the mouth. The mouth has often been referred to as the body’s second set of genitals. The linkage is not just poetic. The physical similarity between mouth and vagina is obvious, and some of us are as sensitive in our mouths as in the genital area, when it comes to pleasureable (or painful) experiences. Unfortunately, it also happens that the mucus membranes that keep both moist are perfect homes for viruses like the HPV group.
So, the main point is that oral sex acts are cancer risks. Guys who consider fellatio a sign that their woman loves them should understand if their woman prefers not to.
Guys should also consider the possibility that tthey may contract an HPV or other STD if heir partner might have been doing blowjobs for previous partners. Yes ladies, I'm sorry to say it, but the guy is not always the guilty partner when it comes to passing on STDs.

But for women in particular, oral sex can be bad news. The Johns Hopkins University studies found that those women who had done oral sex on one to five guys had double the risk of getting oral cancer. The women who had done six or more men increased the oral cancer risk by fivefold. And HPV contracted through oral sex, or even kissing, should be considered high-risk behavior for promiscuous partners, according to Dr. Maura Gillison, one of the researchers.
I thought about this quite a bit before writing about it. First, I though we are being warned that the only safe form of oral sex is the kind where we just sit around and talk about it. But sex is too important in our daily lives to abstain. I’ll blather on about the protection factor in a future Blog. For now, though, I’d point out there are other ways to show your love for your partner. One of those ways is to demonstrate enough respect to use condoms. They come in a variety of flavors, so to speak.


Sunday, September 09, 2007

Depression


The weather update from Japan is that it is a lovely late-summer day in Tokyo, with big post-typhoon clouds again, same as yesterday in the wake of Typhoon Fitow. Depending on who's counting, Japan has now either matched or is one storm short of the 2004 record of 10 to have made landfall in a season.

The storm has now weakened to what is called a tropical depression, which means it still has wind and rain you wouldn't want to be out in, but it's fading fast up in the north Pacific, very unlikely to bother people much anymore.

Before leaving Japan, though, Fitow was responsible for the deaths of at least two people and one man whose body hasn't been found, so I'd count that as three. This storm wasn't as bad as the 2004 killer of 11 people. But death and destruction from the forces of nature are part of the program here. When it's not typhooning, the earth is quaking. It's always something.

That's fairly depressing as well.

Check the Japan weather here: http://www.jma.go.jp/en/typh/

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Small Change

The butterfly effect is simplification of the notion that small variations in the initial condition of a nonlinear dynamical system may produce large variations in the long term behavior of the system. So the wind created by a butterfly fluttering its wings could change the atmosphere enough to cause a tornado (or prevent one, I suppose). That's chaos. A similar and much older notion is that an infinite number of monkeys hitting the keys of an infinite number of typewriters (see how old this one is?) could eventually peck out the complete works of William Shakespeare.
That, as a long-dead aunt used to say, is a load of horse-puckeys. Proceeds from the legendary Concert for Bangla Desh, despite the best intentions, didn't do anything to help people other than the concert promoters. A recent scam involving people sending money to buy plastic bracelets that would demonstrate their concern for world hunger did not generate any money that was actually used to combat world hunger or buy food for anybody but the people who thought up the scam.
I believe in charity, and I believe in trying to help others, especially those less fortunate. At the same time, though, I am also coming off an experience that says even one person trying to have a positive effect upon another probably won't.
So if, just for example, I couldn't even help one person get on the right track without failing horribly and hurting both of us in the process, how could a stadium full of ticket-buying rock fans change the course of famine in a country so corrupt it can't even provide basic garbage-collection services, let alone have a functioning economy?
I got my head straight after being hit on it hard with a thrown dinosaur. (Yes, some other things were involved.. It's a bit complicated.)
But the point is that I now believe the best help is self-help, I now see. Apart from medical necessity, I understand that, at the end of the day, the only way we can solve a problem, overcome an addiction, break a bad habit, or get out of debt, out of a bad relationship, a bad job, a bad life in general, is to just do it. We are, as Maurice Maeterlinck put it, alone, ``absolutely alone on this chance planet; and, amid all the forms of life that surround us, not one, excepting the dog, has made an alliance with us.''
Be nice to your dog.


Eric Clapton and Sheryl Crow do one of her best songs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Whw08RmUFNg&mode=related&search=

And Cheryl notes, A Change Would Do You Good
And Eric (and his Crossroads rehab effort) Eric Clapton, keeps trying to Change the World http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Whw08RmUFNg&mode=related&search=

Hot Stuff


Things got better after a couple of mojitos. I found real peppermint and compiled a healthy one tonight so I could write this. Mojitos are made with rum, a lime twist, sprigs of the mint and club soda over ice. I used Cocoribe, which may not be strictly kosher in Cuba, but it tastes as good as Sonny says in Miami Vice.
Of course another reason to like that movie is for its sense of authenticity. Michael Mann does that in his films. When Colin Farrell and Gong Li (Crockett and Isabella) head for Havana in the cigarette boat for mojitos, we already know something sexy is bound to happen.

http://movies.clevver.com/video/19134/miami-vice-film-clip-crockett-and-isabella-head-to-cuba.php

And sure enough, it does, basically from the time they hit the club.. First, on the dance floor. They dance to ``Arranca, '' by Manzanita (Jose Ortega Heredia) http://www.last.fm/music/Manzanita/_/Arranca.

The dance probably qualifies as salsa. And as most anyone who has been to a Taco Bell knows, salsa is hot and spicy, just as the dance that takes the same name. So, two weeks hence, since I am not able to get to Cuba, I will at least be taking salsa lessons. And I think, with a couple of mojitos, I will do alright.
To learn more about salsa the dance, check this site: http://www.salsa-in-cuba.com/eng/
Cross-cultural footnote
Food, you may know, looms large in my life, because I love to cook, love to eat, and love to be with people who are willing to eat what I cook. So, I should tell you of a great restaurant in Healdsburg, California, up in wine country, called Manzanita. I know the Manzanita is kind of a hill-hugging scrub pine. In this case, it's also the name of a really good place to eat. You'll want some of the Sonma or Nappa region's white wine, I think, rather than mojitos, for this one. I could tell more about that later too.

Feet Notes
Another very personal footnote is about Cuba, which I am to young to remember visiting with my family on a Florida vacation before there was a falling-out between Cuba and the U.S. I'll personally be glad when that's sorted out, for many reasons. I want to have real Cuban Ropa Veja (literally Old Clothes). It's a stew of shredded beef, marinated in red wine, with peppers and onions and beans (frijole negro), as I had it. If you don't or can't or won't dance Salsa with me or have a mojito with me, please try my recipe for Ropa Veja:
Ingredients
Two pounds or more of chuck roast
2 teaspoons sea salt
Fresh-ground pepper. (I use the multi-color kind)
3 tablespoons Olive oil or Canola oil
Half-cup Sofrito, if you can find it, or a combination of ready-made salsa and fresh-chopped cilantro
one-quarter teaspoon ground cumin
two 8-ounce cans of Spanish-style tomato sauce
At least a half-dozen chopped pimento-stuffed olives
4 stalks of celery, chopped, leaves and all
3 medium carrots, trimmed and diced
1 cup black beans. (In an emergency, frozen peas will do.)
1 cup of water, plus a half-cup of red table wine
2 bay leaves
Preparation
Preheat your oven to 350 (160C), pound the beef to about a half-inch thickness, season with salt, pepper and maybe onion or garlic powder. Use a cast-iron skillet to sear the beef in the oil until brown on both sides. This takes about 5 minutes on each side. Spoon out the fat, add the Sofrito or equivalent and the salt and cumin and bring to a boil. Add oil as necessary, then stir in the tomato sauce, olives and ay leaves. Bring to a boil, cover, then bake in the oven until the meat pulls apart easily with forks. this takes about 2 hours or more. Let stand in the sauce. shred the meat and return it to the sauce, simmer a few minutes and add the celery, carrots and cook about 10 minutes, until they are tender. Add the peas, cook a few minutes more, adding wine as needed to the broth. Buen provecho!
Yet Another Personal Footnote

I bought the Miami Vice CD after watching it with my (now former) partner, who really thinks Gong Li is hot. Of course she's hot. (Of course Gong Li is hot. My former partner is too!) See True Lies, or The Emperor and the Assassin, the most expensive movie ever made in China, for examples. So I have to be careful about having too many mojitos while watching that movie, because I get all misty over her not being with me. I also wish she could be in on the Salsa lessons, because the first time she ever danced in her life was with me.
Sigh.

Anyway, if you'd like a mojito, come on over.
You could stay for the stew and the movie.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Health Check


I recently had a physical and learned that I still have most of my original parts and they still work. Some rust here and there, of course, and I could stand to lose several hundred pounds, but basically, I am, according to the doctor, in much better shape than most of his patients who are considerably younger.

Now, that sounds good at first blush, but then I returned to the waiting room and saw some of his patients. Omygod! Am I really 64? Are they really in their 50s?

Overall, the message I get from these annual events is that even though I have been through a lot and a lot has been through me in the past several decades, I am doing ok.
Many years ago, when I was on the cusp of deciding whether to choose music or media as a career path, I had several people point to the classic cliche ''Live hard, die young and leave a good-looking corpse.'' The fact that I chose the journalism path over the rock 'n' roll path does not dilute the fact that I lost a lot of the high end of my hearing by either playing at or being at some serious guitar sessions over the years. But at least I am still hearing something, and I revel in the fact that every day above ground puts me ahead of Jimi and Keith and Buddy and Richie and many -- way too many -- others.
The fact that I am soft in the middle (Thanks Paul Simon) when the rest of my life has been pretty hard not withstanding, I am still above ground. And that, thank you, is a nice feeling from where I sit.
I am grateful to be alive when so many of the people I came up in this with are already gone. I don't want to go all maudlin here, but I like to think I made the right choice in being a scribe, rather than a musician.
My gratitude comes at least in part from a recent study that shows American and British rock stars are at least two to three times more likely to die young, mainly because of drug and alcohol abuse. The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health published a study by researchers in Liverpool and Manchester, England, of the mortality rates among 1,064 musicians, which lends support to the long-held impression that rock stars have below-average life expectancies, especially within the first five years of becoming famous.
Drug and alcohol problems accounted for more than one in four of the early deaths, according to the study. Even when I was growing up with the shift in musical tastes, I was lucky. Because one in 10 kids in the U.K. aspire to be rock stars, and I can only imagine how much influence Paula Abdul and friends have on the aspirations of American kids.
``Fame and money protects stars from the social consequences,but it doesn't protect people from the long-term health consequences,'' Mark Bellis, a professor at Liverpool John MooresUniversity's Centre for Public health and co-author, was quoted as saying in an interview about the study findings.
I know, I know. Some of you will say you know you are too damn old when your favorite song is elevator music. I also like what's out there now, in case you think I gave it up decades ago when I had more hair and brain cells.
So, Keith and Uncle Bob and Steve Tyler and gun-abuse and transplant survivor David Crosby have managed to defy the odds, although there is reason to wonder how or why. I'm sure grateful they have, not only for their music still being out there, but for what their survival says about defying the odds and living large.
Nobody gives a shit about my music, but so have I.
But then again, I rock to a different set of standards these days, don't I?
Now, where's the kiff and the wine?


P.S. There's another metaphor about the ''Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess'' metaphor. But let's save that for a later Blog. Read more about the study and wave as you go buy: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20581183/

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Floral Tribute


This time of summer is a bit awkward in terms of growing or trying to grow flowers. I love flowers, and being on the sixth floor, my little balcony garden only faces east in the morning, so flowers have to try hard to get their vitamins in the early half of the day. The rest of the time, I make do with florist flowers and actually quite nice ones from the supermarket.

Fowers are a way to bring a bit of sunshine inside, and flowers help us smile when we've lost a reason to smile, as I have. Maybe that's why flowers are such a part of daily life for many people, from cradle to grave and beyond. Artists and photographers from Vincent Van Gogh to Robert Maplethorp have made flowers metaphorical images as well as subjects. So I think it is ok to have a little flower arrangement on my table, one in the bedroom and one even in the bathroom.

Not so many years ago, I gave a rose to the woman I love. She has a favorite Italian phrase that uses roses as a metaphor. I hope she still has flowers in her life now.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Bugs' Lives


I hope you have seen the Disney/Pixar film A Bug's Life by now. The Web site for the film says the inspiration came from the kid's tale of the Ant and the Grasshopper, showing that industriousness is better than idleness. In the movie, Flik is one ant who stands up to grasshoppers who not only fiddle away their lives but DEMAND food from the industrious ants. Life isn't fair is another message from the movie.

Still, we can learn a lot from bugs. As I write this, we're coming off a week in which the noisy cicadas and locusts in the daytime are gradually being replaced by grasshoppers and crickets at night. I live by a river, and it is fun to watch the bats swoop around the bridge scooping up bugs at twilight. I found a spider trying to make a link between the front door and the mail slot. Seasons change, and the shift in bug life is one sign of that. People change too, and that is sort of what is bugging me now. We hope that we will grow and improve and get smarter and wiser and less prone to screwups. At the same time, we hope that the good things will stay the same.
Alas, the former hope doesn't always happen, and certainly the latter doesn't seem to happen either. Autumnilia is not just a blog, but a condition, it seems. As I get older, I hoped I would get wiser. And I hoped that things that are now wistful memories to me would have been part of the normal condition. A year ago, I thought I was a lot smarter than I feel now. And a year ago, I was longing for, working toward and embracing the whole concept of change.

So in that sense, looking at then from the perspective of now, I can say things do change. They definitely do change. Ants that can get over the idea of letting the grasshoppers run the show are better off, anyway.
The image at the top is from the Pixar Web site for the movie A Bug's Life. I hope use of the image in the context of this Blog entry is within the realm of fair use. And if it isn't, I hope the powers that be understand I had good intentions. Here's the site link, by the way: http://www.pixar.com/featurefilms/abl/

Friday, August 24, 2007

Send In The Clowns


At the bottom of this page, you'll find a link to Pink's song ''A Long Way To Happy.'' I may change that in the future, but for now, it's appropriate to my mood, or I should say my condition, which is, like the song says, something that's going to take a long time to get back on track. This is, pardon the pun, a depressing situation. I am usually preternaturally happy, meaning I can find something to lift me out of even the most crappy situations, or at least I could until this one.

I understand that there is some technique by which we can stimulate the left prefontal lobe of our brains (up on the left side of the forehead) to trigger release of whatever chemical is responsible for the feeling of happiness. People with brain problems in the parts of the brain that control such emotions as the nurturing instinct, feelings of elation and depression, and so on, often have to take drugs that do the same thing chemically to counter periodic depression or other conditions that make the brain sort-of cramp up.

I don't know the technique, apart from having read some research on it in science magazines. What I do know is that we could all do with whatever technique it takes to be happier. I wish I could have been able to give my partner my personal sense of happiness. Perhaps I did in some small way, but I certainly did enough else to erase whatever good I might have done beforehand. Still, there are some things we can do to help get those happiness juices flowing. Do good for others. Help people. Be nice to people. Smile at people. Speak softly. No, better yet, don't speak so much. Think first about whether what you say will cause more harm than good.

I know that people in the wealthiest (economically advanced) countries are supposed to be the happiest in general. However, I am sitting now in the capital city of the world's second-largest economy, surrounded by some of the most unhappy damned people I've ever seen. If you've followed my other Blogs, you'll know I wrote a lot about bipolarism, and the "frustrating mess" Jimi Hendrix described in Manic Depression (We're not supposed to call it that anymore). And what I know is that not everybody appreciates the effort to be happy or to make others feel happy. From where I sit, that's pretty depressing itself.