Tuesday, October 31, 2006

my strained and my sweet eyeballs

Thankfully it looks like I'm about to start back at work next Monday (a temporary part-time contract at the embassy) because this social Martha-to-the-max thing is hard work! I don't know if it's just my over-achieverness or maybe a combination of that and my immature love of Halloween that's had me working non-stop for that past while on the kids' halloween party that took place tonight to the howls of joy emitted by children overstimulated by sugar and the prospect of more and more for days. But I'm so tired and glad all the ghost cutting, spider-webbing and monster eyeball baking are done!

Seriously, it was really fun and I think the embassy kids (about 10 little ones and 10 tweens & teens) and their +/- 15 guests really enjoyed the haunted graveyard we created in the ambassador's back garden, or part of it actually. Talk about a huge and fabulous garden, full of Edward Scissorhand bushes, back stone paths, ponds with fish and turtles, etc.!

But I digress. We played some games, were frightened by surprise monsters moaning and jumping out from behind trees (Alain was lead monster), munched the varied scary snacks (another being witch finger cookies, which my CEC pals may remember) and gave out prizes & goodies and wham-bam the weeks of planning and prepping were over in about an hour...

Happy Halloween.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

puppy head

So I'm puppy-sitting on a hangover and boy I think it's cured me of my desire for a puppy of my own! Fuji, the 3-month-old miniature Schnauzer, is immensely cute but between chewing me to death with his piranha-like tiny teeth and peeing everywhere except on the paper, he hasn't given me a moment's peace since 9 this morning. Actually, shhh he's napping now so I'm trying to type quietly.

This after the big embassy Halloween party last night and one tequila too many. But the sights alone were worth this morning's pounding brain. There was hardly a soul without a costume (though there were far too many women in regular black clothing wearing witch hats in my opinion!) and boy there were some doozies! One of the youngest diplomats and his mate made their own sushi costumes. He was octopus and I think she was tuna. Another embassy couple were a pirate and wench but they were not garbed out of a package; she's a seamstress and researched it so the costumes were historically accurate and absolutely stunning.

Another non-embassy guest meticulously painted himself in intricate full facial and full arm tattoos. One of my friends apparently asked him, "You're Maori, right?" To which the dude replied, "No, I'm just interesting." And with almost 400 in attendance, he was not the only interesting character either. One young Pierrot, who kept trying to chat us up to polish his limited English skills, apparently found out about the party via MySpace. Oh and that's not to mention the guy dressed like Arafat (in head scarf and robe) wearing a sign that said, "Anti Terro, Pro Ero." Alain quibbled with him about the accuracy of the abbreviations and I told him, hey give the guy a break, that's fine Ingrish!

As for us, we had tons of Japanese female guests ask if they could take our picture, so I guess we did a good job with our costumes. But particularly Aran, whom they all instantly recognized as Lupin (though a few Canadians mistook him for the Joker). I think his big brown eyes, accented by the black eyecrayon that he finally gave in and let me use on him, probably didn't hurt his popularity!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

matcha, deer, parfaits & pagodas

a sweet & a nice bowl of matcha (green tea)
It's late because it took me forever to upload all the photos I shot on our long and very packed weekend in Kyoto so I'll try to make this short and sweet like all the goodies we ate.

Friday's 2.5 hour shinkansen (bullet train) ride there was totally painless and oh so smooth. We absolutely fell in love with Kyoto and in particular Gion, the famous geisha district full of very old traditional Japanese houses, that looks like a movie set.

Saturday we spent the day in Nara, a smaller town 40 minutes out of Kyoto. We trekked all over the park part of the town that is home to many different temples (including one that houses Japan's biggest Buddha statue), gardens, ponds and tons and tons of very tame deer (see photos).

Sunday we were back in Kyoto for the Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages). This Buddhist celebration culminates in an eye-popping parade, featuring historically costumed famous characters from Japan's history, that's been taking place in Kyoto for over 110 years.

After the parade we rode around on rented bikes until after nightfall and then headed to Gion to try and spot some geisha. Not much luck there (geisha are very discreet!) but we treated ourselves to a leisurely dinner that featured Kyoto specialties and lots of sake.

On Monday we hit Nijo castle and that was also very very interesting because it's the first time we got to see the INSIDE of one of these historical buildings. I couldn't believe how beautiful the Nightingale floors were.

We also returned to Gion to get some daytime photos. Unfortunately the weather turned icky and so we headed back to Tokyo late in the afternoon.

End of a longer-than-I had-planned-to-write story. Oyasuminasai (good night).

Friday, October 20, 2006

developing a Tomato addiction

I'm just about to start snipping and realized I already want to go back! I finally bought some fabric yesterday in Nippori, a neighbourhood know as "fabric town" and oh wow, can you get deals there! Anyone who sews will appreciate this: 100 yen, aka a bit less than a dollar, per metre! For those who aren't familiar with the textile market, this is DIRT cheap!

I have to admit that yesterday was my second visit and far more successful than my first. See I had gone to Nippori last Saturday and checked out many, many different shops but there were so many people swarming the 100 yen shelves at Tomato (the best/cheapest of the fabric town stores) that I just got stressed and discouraged and left empty-handed, deciding to return during the week.

And sure enough, late yesterday afternoon the crowds were much thinner. I scored enough tangerine (yes tangerine, we needed COLOR in that room!) sheer material for the 6.5 metre wide, ceiling to floor, livingroom/diningroom window wall (you can understand why I was looking for a deal!) for just under, get this, $25 bucks! I also found the fabric to cover our dreaded farmhouse-plaid den sofa for less than $20. On a bit of a high, I got a few metres of a heavy black denimy stuff for around $3 that will make great canvas (I'm thinking of taking up painting again) and then for under $2 I got a couple of metres of black veil fabric to supplement my Halloween costume.

Of course I had to endure what I'm pretty sure was a public humiliation to score my prizes, but hey, what you don't understand can't hurt you much. The man who served me at the shop, probably encouraged by my ordering in (broken) Japanese, decided to yatter all kinds of stuff at me. When I smiled and shrugged and told him "Wakarimasen," (I don't understand) rather than stop talking to me, which is what usually happens, he continued even louder and soon his colleague and the surrounding customers were all having a good giggle.

Despite this suspected mockery, I think I'll be visiting Tomato on a semi-regular basis and maybe honing my sewing skills a bit (ie., venturing past curtains and pant hems)! In fact... the addiction rears its head...I have to go back next week to get some filmy white material to make ghosts for the kid's Halloween party I'm helping organize. Maybe I'll try to bring a Japanese-speaking Canadian to catch the joker in the act!

Monday, October 16, 2006

queen of the bakesale

see comments for recipe
Who would have ever imagined that I, a rocker tomboy who refuses to grow up, would be such a hit at the matronly art of baking? Last weekend I had our new friends drooling all over my contribution to the Thanksgiving feast to which we were invited; a rich classic marble cheesecake that I myself admit was sublime but I share the kudos with the high-caliber Japanese sour cream & cream cheese.

And this morning my chocolate cashew crunch cookies, pictured here, are apparently the talk of the embassy, leaving all the other bakesale goodies in their delicious caramely crumb-dust! Poor Alain even bought some, not knowing I had kept aside a small tin for us when I sent him off to work with the big one (duly sealed, since I knew that he'd have trouble resisting on the 3 minute walk to work).

But my newfound sugary prowess is only one reason I'm wiped out this fine sunny Monday morning. We ran around like mental all weekend doing errands, including an Ikea spree. I must soon take new pix of the apt because it's beginning to look less uptight and more like us! We were also shopping for Alain's Halloween costume. I keep telling him to come up with a Plan B because we have not yet found a (cheap) red blazer that fits him. See he wants to go as a character (Lupin III) from a very hot anime series that his Japanese colleagues claim he resembles. And by "go" I'm talking about attending the huge party at the embassy (250 people) with proceeds going to the United Way.

I got my costume, a floor-length black gown made of taffeta & tulle, at a crazy-ass department store called Don Quixote. I found the hideous thing, perfect for the Duchess of the Damned look I'm going for, not in the Halloween section of the store but in the women's formal wear section! Words cannot adequately describe the racks and racks of slutty, sad and many many bizarre numbers I found there. Most had tags that showed them as originally going for around $90. All were not surprisingly slashed way down to $20-$25. Harajuku girls take note.

Anyway, someday I really should shoot some pictures of Don Quixote because it's an experience that is difficult to put into words. The one closest to our house is 6 floors high but the building is quite narrow so each floor is not very big. To make up for the lack of space, things are crammed (yet orderly) into skinny aisles with racks that reach all the way up to the ceiling. The other unique thing is the bizarre mix of merchandise. Aside from the cheap dubious-quality clothing found on most of the groundfloor, and the mostly snack & canned food floor, there's also a floor that sells only designer goods (it's a bit less crammed and contains a lot of locked glass cases) such as fancy-ass watches and the oh-so-popular-with-Tokyo-girls&boys Louis Vuitton handbags.

There's even a floor that's largely devoted to costumes, all year round. Not Halloween costumes though, I discovered to my great surprise. See when I went there last week to look at the Halloween stuff, I found it right by the entrance on the ground floor. However, there were no wigs so I asked the cashier (in pantomime) who informed me (via an English-speaking customer) that the wigs were on the 6th floor. Hmm, that's weird, I thought, why aren't the wigs with the rest of the Halloween stuff?

Up the elevator I went and found a large joke-costume section with samurai & sumo suits, fake moustaches, clown afros, yadda-yadda, and a full wig wall. But also, well let me just say that I now look at schoolgirls in the street differently (is she really?)... I had stumbled into a wonderland of kink: a myriad of styles of maid, schoolgirl and nurse outfits, a plethora of full plushie-suits, etc., etc.!

Oh Tokyo, what a place!

Friday, October 06, 2006

stomach bug goes to Swan Lake

I'm afraid my stomach may have been permanently ruined by a stupid flu that's sweeping the embassy. I came down with it fully early last week but had been fighting it for a week before that and have now been fighting all this week to recover. I hope it hasn't damaged my previously strong stomach because I worked hard to get it as strong as it was! As some might remember, particularly my poor dear Buzz who dragged me barfing to the hospital on more than one occasion, I was previously prone to vomit-a-ramas.

Actually, I can't say I worked hard, I don't know how or why I got over that tendency but I wish I did know because I'd do it again now. I prefer natural remedies but fresh ginger infusions are not working, dammit. Any suggestions, folks? Just don't say raw eggs or 4 glasses of milk or anything like that because you'll make me retch.

Okay, well THAT was not what I intended to blog about today, I guess I'm just preoccupied by my achey tum-tum, sorry! I wanted to glow a little about a gorgeous ballet we saw last night. Yes, pip-pip, excuse us, we went to the baaallet my dears!

It was my first viewing of Swan Lake, or any famous classical ballet for that matter (aside from a Balanchine retrospective done by Les Grandes Ballets Canadiens de Montreal a couple of years back but I digress). And apparently Tokyo is the place to experience it according to B, a former dancer herself, with and because of whom we were there. The sets were exquisite, the costumes truly stunning, and the dancing was irreproachable (according to B, since I certainly am not a baaallet expert)!

Of course it's odd that our first dance expedition in Japan would be to see something Western, but it just worked out that way because of B (long story). I do intend to experience Japanese dance during our time here and I'd really like to begin with Butoh or contemporary dance (my preference) that is influenced by it. It's apparently quite disturbing and controversial. Just my cup of tea.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

great Buddha

I'm ashamed to say that last night I watched my first anime film. It sure took me long enough to get around to it, don't you think?

In any case, I was very pleasantly surprised and thought the film, Spirited Away, to be a fitting choice since we had spent the day yesterday in a small town visiting Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, including that of the huge famed 700-year-old statue seen here.

See the storyline of this suspenseful movie revolves around a human girl getting trapped at a special spa in the netherworld that caters to Shinto "kami" (deities or spirits).

So it's a "cartoon" as Aran calls animation, spiced by a little of Japan's very rich mythology.

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