Tuesday, August 30, 2011


When I was a teenager I was often called a Neanderthal by Mr. Rapazzardi, who generally sat on his front stoop keeping an eye on that nice front lawn of his that I used as a shortcut. For my part, I felt that Mr. Rapazzardi was the Neanderthal. Turns out we were both right.

Later, in my college years, I smirked at the academic puzzlement over whether or not the noble Cro-Magnon, crafter of superb arrowheads, pure high-browed ancestor of those strong-jawed subjects of highest nobility, known as "us," had ever, ever deigned to couple with the bestial, low-browed hairy chipper of nothing but hand axes: the Neanderthals next door! I smirked because, well, I was in a fraternity; we were much closer to how reality actually worked.

So all these decades later I was not shocked when the scientists announced that, like all non-Africans, I am part Neanderthal, and so was Mr. Rapazzardi. There have always been certain ancient cave-dwelling propensities, have there not, certain primal feelings in taking a risk, hefting a stone, sighting a wild animal, gathering around a fire, spotting an untrod lawn...

So what does this mean for us modern human folk, this Neanderthal quality so many of us share, even without reference to certain reality tv programming? It could explain some major anomalies, such as creationists, Wall Street financiers and certain folksy politicians, who are torn between the progressive abilities of one ancestral line and the inviting stolidity of the other, between malignant greed and staunch integrity, complexity, simplicity, pride, humility, the list can be found in any "holy" book, whichever from wherever. Familiar mixes that are especially stressful to politicians and financiers, for example, who as a way of life must appear one way while acting the opposite.

No real need at this point in these exciting revelations to mention that I am also very likely a descendant of King Tut, who was probably also part Neanderthal, as are you, maybe you have the Tut part too, all of which means more to me, such as it is, than the Adam and Eve agenda I was heir to, but there you are-- people are impressionable are they not, yearning as they do for admittedly mythical roots, even as they carry the actuals in their very genes, with far more lineage than any mere king.

So now, thanks to science, we mongrels can at last perhaps begin admitting who we all really are, begin finding, studying, facing and accepting the many gifts and glitches we have inherited from the Cro-Magnons, Neanderthals and Denisovans, among all our uncounted forebears - including King Tut, where applicable - and so get past the dark sides of politics, finance, other bipolar activities and evolve at last into the beings that have been trying for so long to be.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Here and there in the grains of the photos that remain from that time you can see the blurred outline of a person, sometimes with a child or even two, walking where the way was once familiar, but that now was the bottom of an incinerator the size of their city, that still burned through them even as they walked, perhaps to escape the heat of all the nothing that remained...

At other places in the mass of the ashes of a hundred thousand lives turned into wind and rain you can make out the speck of another one still living, bent over searching, sifting in vain through blackened flakes of what once was life, once a place of daily living, where now nothing stood, where all was flat and dark, dust and fragments of death...

After the fires died, first they came seeking their loved ones, one mother searching for her daughter who that morning had gone into town early so she could pay the rent on her way to work, but the mother never found her daughter...

That mother and all the others - fathers, sisters, sons, daughters and brothers, wandered for days, weeks, the rest of their lives in their hearts in those ashes of a city of families, passing by in their dreams those passengers on the train who were charcoal statues in their seats, or those still just alive who wandered also, in search of death that waited not far away, or the ones who had left those instant white shadows on the darkened stone of the bridge or building where they'd joined the unseeable light...

All of it on that August morning-- every ash of bone, every unheard scream, every sear of pain or cry for love, every tear of life, every atom of vapor that had been a person, all of it, is in our voices now...

Monday, August 22, 2011


No, not that Goya, the big-G Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes, the renowned Spaniard who painted such works as The Third of May 1808 or Saturn Devouring His Son and who sadly never in life tasted the small-g goya that is this ramble's subject, also called the bitter melon, which originated somewhere in the tropics, has long been enjoyed throughout Asia, Africa and the Caribbean and could, I don't see why not, also be grown and enjoyed in the USA but isn't yet, as far as I know.

Now that we're past that bizarre but subjectively necessary opening sentence I can get right to the topic at hand, the wondrous goya. I first tasted that crisp and uniquely astringent fruit (the bitterest on the planet, Wiki says) on Okinawa in the early 1960s. After leaving Okinawa I didn't have goya again for decades, since it was then unknown and ungrown in the USA. Even when I came back to Japan, the wonderful veg was unavailable in central Japanese supermarkets until a few years ago, but by then I was growing my own. It's one of those produce items that has to grow from low-class food to high cuisine.

The reason I'm rambling about this now is because on Saturday, after two non-gardening days spent in the big city where little grows, I found that those many little tiny baby cucumber-sized goya had, in the two rainless days since, grown to include 4 full-sized gourds hanging there in hefty beauty. Goya don't fool around when it comes to growth and prolificity, they don't sometimes curl up to hide behind leaves and try to avoid being seen, like cucumbers do, they just hang there on their strong vines, heavy and straight down, saying Here! Here I am! I'm ready, pick me! Went out again this morning and among the 2 dozen or so small to midsizers yet on their way to maturity, 4 more had grown to size overnight! For just a few seeds and a high vine-climbable surface with southern exposure, you can have them all! Fresh! And tasty! And property/action rich!

Because I put up the high net fence (ca 3 meters) (and thereby tripled my growing area!) I began to grow climbers there-- cucumbers, pumpkins, climbing squashes, runner beans -- cukes love getting up so high, waving their tendrils around to bring their bright yellow blossoms even higher, but the goya has a special wild viney quality about it, it grows left and right and up and down, covering the whole surface. This year I planted just two plants, about two meters apart, at the foot of the northern wall, and those two alone cover the entire wall and beyond (one vine reached out and got into the chestnut tree!) with palm-sized translucent jade green leaves, here and there a butter-yellow blossom that more often than not turns into a tiny greening gourd that grows like blazes; this morning I harvested four of the biggest ones (well over a foot long; they biggen fast, the biggerer the bitterer). Now there are about two dozen of all sizes remaining, with about 6 weeks of growing time left to go!

The bitter melon is also a beautiful plant. Hardy as well, once it gets going. And the gourds. Crunchy, nice bitterness, they don't dissolve into a mush, great in salads, stir fries, tempura etc. I bet Western chefs are about to come out with some great new goya discoveries. As for the health aspects, the bitter melon is pretty miraculous; Dr. Wiel praises goya too, it is a wondrous health veg full of salubrious goodies yet to be detailed, or even discovered!

Todd also provides a link to lots of good-looking recipes

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Bill was an eclectic guy, he mentioned slings and caldrons, hawks and bodkins, arrows and handsaws, everyday tools and devices all over the place, whenever they fit a niche in one of his plot structures, but as far as bootjacks go, despite their undeniable convenience he never mentions them even once, as far as I know. And there’s a reason for this; it came to me in my genkan a few days ago, which I'll get to in a moment.

Fact is - to stay off the main track for a bit the way Bill often did, though in his case for dramatic purposes, I'm just rambling - Bill was a borrower as far as plots went, so he had to go with what was at hand; still, to never even once mention a bootjack... He himself had a bootjack, if he had boots (and who didn't, back then?), and if he wasn't a noble-- they had their own living vassally hands-on Jack-of-boots, who gave the device its name.

And if you have a bootjack, despite its well-worn humility you know how much it means to you, bringing such ease and decorum to an inelegant task; same for Bill, yet he never mentioned a bootjack, never let it strut it its moment upon the stage, never made it a star, never gave it a bit of well-deserved fame; why might that be? I here hypothesize for the first time in history that it was because, despite his broad reading and deep familiarity with travelers' tales, Bill himself never really got around much. (Who had the time, wazoo shows a week, and writing them, too!) No, he never really got international, deeply intercultural, but mainly he never lived in Japan, which is why he never saw the bootjack for what it was.

These kinds of realizations come to one here in the Orient, particularly Japan, as happened to me one evening a couple of weeks ago when, as I returned from work the Trio of Brio was waiting to rush me at the genkan, where in Japan you take off your shoes before entering the house. I was not realizing anything of bootjack level at the time, it was just genkan city, plain and simple.

Where they stood on the floor-edge of the genkan, the girls were poised to pounce as soon as I slipped off my shoes (as 99.9999% of Japanese persons do, upon returning home). I, however was wearing a pair of rodeo boots I got in New Mexico some years ago, and did not simply slip off my footwear and step up onto the floor; rather, I bent way over...? reached under the shoe cabinet (there's one in every genkan)...?? and pulled out my old and trusty...? bootjack?!

The effect upon the vibrant Trio was like pulling the plug on a house-sized generator: a large and deep silence descended as they gazed wide-eyed upon this object from another reality, this long piece of looked like wood, of alien shape, with a wedge cut for some reason into the wide end, whose edges were trimmed with soft leather-- and underneath there was a single cushioned stub jutting out at an odd angle...

I stood there with the exoplanetary device in my hand, tilting it this way and that, like the steering wand of a spaceship, so that those young and hungry eyes could view it from all angles; I turned it over slowly in educational silence so they could study it. Then I handed it to them, so they could examine it closely, in detail, and determine... no, this did not seem to help; proximity did not clear their eyes of the mystery that was there. Sharp senses and hungry minds were not providing an answer. The purpose of a bootjack does not come easily to one who has been raised in a historically bootless culture.

Six wide and puzzled eyes looked at me for the answer: What was this thing? What was I doing instead of just taking off my shoes like everybody else does? What was the point of this theater? (Bill slipped into thought at this point.) Six eyes went from me to this piece of wood, then back to me, back and forth, looking for answers.

As Bill has demonstrated so well with his many characters, like Hamlet (who could never decide whether or not to bother using his bootjack) and Lady MacBeth (who bootjacked daily, offstage), plus Rosencranz and his buddy, coming and going (rabid bootjackers), timing is everything. The tension built... the audience of big brown eyes looked at me; I turned the object slowly, then suddenly dropped it on the floor! Hooked my right bootheel into the wedge, placed my left foot atop the wooden slab, pulled my right leg upward, and-- VOILA! A boot was standing there empty of my foot, which now stood bootlessly elsewhere!

Amazement filled the genkan. There was a loud and multivoiced kiddy version of all those adult shockwords that were frequently given voice during Bill's presentations at the Globe... Whoa!! What the ***? How the ***? and so forth, in this case followed by Lemme see that, I wanna try that, Can I do that! Me too! And so for the next 15 minutes the little stage that is the genkan was crowded with auditioners, trying on all the boots of all the kinds in all the genkan, shoes too, just to see how that went, and now all three understand and are greatly impressed with this radical new concept and cultural item from the Occident (a place Far East of here), called a "bootjack." Some day it will find a place in their plays, I'm sure.

If only the same thing could have happened to Bill when he was a kid...

Sunday, August 07, 2011


Headed out for the cherry tree his morning to add some kitchen garbage to the compost pile that is currently nourishing the cherry tree, the Baron, his harem and his offspring, plus the smaller herbivores (no meat added, other than occasional fish bones), who all make good use of the leavings and add their share, leveling it all out with their rooting searches (likely the occasional wild pig too, though I've never seen one there). Crows and other birds also find goodies in the pile now and then, the crows being particularly fond of the rare pineapple crown, which they pick utterly clean; watermelon rinds are also a summer favorite.

When I went out there this morning, though, my approach prompted a big WHOA!, as a cloud of semi (cicadas) burst into flight all around me. (Some time when you've got a minute in your good pants, just try frantically dodging chunky buzzing lifeforms while carrying a dodgy load of drippy compost.) The semi had been convening not at the base of the oak, the chestnut, the other cherries or the cedars, but that particular cherry tree. The compost therefore must have been of some attraction for them, though it couldn't have been as food, since semi are the ultimate fasters, being mouthless and so not taking a single bite in their entire lives (Do not try the New Semi Diet!), staying alive in this form not being their purpose, their actual lives - such as we call life - being spent underground as larvae, in which lightless phase they get to be teenagers, yearwise; the rest comes later in the aboveground semi part that we're familiar with, a sort of pre-heaven for them, a quick agenda to perpetuate the race, leaving their lifeless husks lying around afterward, in some ways like the human teen age, though without the junkfood.

As I approached, the semi hadn't yet begun their daily waaa-waaa-waaa chorus, and were silent apart from the perennial morning background music to this unsponsored reality show tacitly titled Pure Land Mountain: Summer Days (audience too low for rating), which thankfully has nevertheless had quite a long run. This familiar buzz and hum was why I approached without knowing any creature was there. There was just a low busyness all around, as at a human conference. It certainly appeared that the semi were having some sort of convention, so many of them together, and as I neared their venue they began bursting away from the base of the tree in roaring sporadic dozens, zooming past my head WHOOM! WHOOM! WHOOM! as they took off, rudely interrupted, perhaps in the midst of some kind of mating meeting, an insect orgy, my sudden presence thus causing countless coitus interrupti. I couldn't tell exactly, but that is what they live for... Sorry guys.

Next time I go that way I'll cough loudly first...

Thursday, August 04, 2011


So there we were on a perfect blue-sky summer afternoon, all of us out on the deck, Echo napping on the big futon spread out in the shade while the Trio of Brio sat on the edge eating fresh watermelon, I standing near the door sipping iced coffee watching the far thunderheads rise in skycolumns of crisp white high above the blue shock of the Lake, over here the deep air itself flowing softly over us bearing the rich scent of summer growth-- blossoms and catkins, grass and trees, swelling rice heads in their imperial green robes nodding with wealth in the long late sun, the bamboo and weeping cherry branches swaying at the direction of the breeze. As I sipped and the girls giggled over their sweet afternoon snack while Echo slept, calm in the embrace of all outdoors I could not help but think that paradise is not a place, but a time, a moment, a mosaic of moments...

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Citizens go
deeper into trillions of debt -
politicians applaud