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 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:

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:

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:

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: 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?

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:

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:
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.