17 March, 2009

Where in the World is Vegetable Japan?

You might have noticed the lack of food here recently. I've been promising Thai recipes that haven't materialized. There have been no curries, no sweets, no pancakes, no breads. You'll be happy to know that I have been eating, but it's been more about ease and convenience than creative imagination. Tonight I had bread and peanut butter for supper. It was okay, but still it wasn't what I have been used to and nothing about it sang its way down my throat.

Because the truth is, I haven't felt like cooking recently. I've been stressed out about what will be my 5th move, when I make it, in a year.

This was the year that I packed up my life and threw half of it away, gave away another third and set off for home to re-connect with the self that I had left in limbo when I went off for my second stint in Japan eight years ago. Last March I packed up some small boxes with my Japanese treasures and mailed them home, and except for two bags of clothes that I could carry on the plane, that was all I had of 7 years of accumulated goods and life. I didn't miss most things too much, though for awhile I mourned the little dark-polished plank floored kitchen with its rice cooker and sharp knives, store of Indian spices, and big steel wok that with its wooden handle and perfectly seasoned bowl was ideal for making curries and stir-frys. My suribachi and pestle for making fragrant mixtures. And the gorgeous blue-as-the- sky enamelled cast iron pots that you've seen pictured here sometimes, a wok and an oval cocotte that were far too heavy to mail and found a home with another English teacher in my town. I hope she has as many delicious days with them.

Mustache's litter-mates, a few months old, in the front garden.

And I certainly missed Mustache, my feral cat turned friend, who had at the last minute refused to imagine another life outside the garden where she was born. I couldn't blame her for that, though I still think of her and how she curled warmly on my lap making winters just a little more cosy. Now when I think of her I hope that she has found another friend and another lap to curl in. I so hope that she is safe and happy and well fed.

Mustache, Queen of the futon.

I travelled from the Japan I had come to know and love, my neighborhood almost as familiar as the one I had grown up in here. I knew which stars would rise above the rooftops on my way home from classes, when the moon would light up my garden so that I could see as well as smell the familiar Rosemary bush at my side door. I knew where to buy the freshest produce and which of the Sunday market sellers had the best bargains. I knew how to ride my bicycle around all the narrow corners of the little lanes and which ones I had better slow down at and be careful of cars or walkers or other bicyclists.

I knew where to ride to see all the best gardens on a Sunday stretch for fresh air. I knew the people at the post office and the people at the drugstore, the people at the local conbenie where I paid my electric bill, and the people at the small health food store where I shopped every week. The fruit store where the obaa-chan snuggled a few molasses candies into my hand with the change. The best place to buy fresh green tea. Where the tofu was fresh and creamy. There were always smiles and the comfort of seeing the same people, and the extra politeness and smiles they reserved for regular customers.

I travelled to Vancouver and stayed with my sister for a month in her big house on one of the main streets. Everything was strange and big and a bit intimidating, and suddenly everyone looked angry and stressed and miserable. Or maybe that was just me. I was having a painful adjustment I discovered, but still I had a great time visiting my favourite Emily Carrs at the Art Gallery and the incredible Totems and gargantuan art at The Museum of Anthropology. And I managed to find an ethnic market and buy Indian spices and begin to cook curries and salads even if I was the only one who enjoyed them.

Emily Carr, The Little Pine, at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

When I came here to Nova Scotia, I stayed with my Mom for about 10 days, and then I left to stay in a little country village in the beautiful old house where days were slow and a lot like the life I had been dreaming of those last years in Japan. I was able to stay there for about four wonderful months, time in which I realized that this was my dream, slow living in the country where life could be the only goal, life and growing things and learning to heal myself and the land and be as natural and as far from the consuming culture as it was possible to be. Other than food and one book and some rug hooking supplies I bought nothing much for those months and was quite happy.

But as hard as I had saved for the year before I left, there was a point where the money started to run out and I had to think about getting work. Unfortunately there wasn't much of that in the country, and so I had to move to the city where I have been staying with my daughter ever since, picking up as much substitute teaching as my head can stand.

But it doesn't pay that well, and the sporadic nature of the work means that I really can't support myself. For this house I am staying in is getting ready to be sold, and so I will be moving again.

My neighborhood here in autumn.

I have no idea where. The idea that I could come home to Nova Scotia and afford to live here is slowly fading. For the fact is, like many Nova Scotians, I can't find a job here. After one year at home I am going to have to leave again. This time I'm not sure that I will be able to come back. In a way, I go into exile.

Whether this will a happy experience or not, I don't know. I'm hoping I will find a country and job that will support learning, and where I can save enough money so that I can come back at least for short visits. I hope I will find a place of peace, where I can have a small garden, set up a kitchen and feel inspired to cook again, a place that will nourish creativity and soothe the soul.

I don't know where in the world that will be, but if you have any good suggestions I'm ready to listen. In fact I'm all ears. In the meantime, I will be sending out resumes and dusting off my suitcases once again. I will be renewing my passport and figuring out what I need to take to be comfortable in whatever country I end up in.

I won't be going for about a month or so, and I will be continuing this blog from wherever I end up. I have found in blogging not only friends that offer encouragement when times get tough, and I thank you because it seems there have been plenty of those this year, but a place I come to when I have something I need to say. That may not always make for the best writing, but it does make for a kind of home, which is a real comfort right now.

With any luck there will be more stories, more recipes, and more living in the future of Vegetable Japan, wherever in the world it, and I, can be found. I hope you'll stick around.

16 March, 2009

From the Heart and Soul

Sometimes the truth hurts, they say, and they're right. Behind the beauty of art lies a whole world of pain and suffering, whether it be the time and effort required to hone and re-write a poem, get the inspiration for and make a painting, sweat out writing and revising a book, or give birth to a song or symphony, and that might take a whole life of living first. The level of sensitivity that you have to open yourself up to to allow creativity through, or even the amount of truth you have to face up to in order to encounter the self strongly enough to make a difference is considerable. It's painful for some of us just to turn off the TV or the computer and sit with that truth and all the thoughts that come flooding through for an hour or two. Think, then of the artist who does it every day of his/her life. It's no wonder so few of us have the courage to make art.

I found a video today of an older Ray LaMontagne song, one that shows what kind of passion it takes to make this kind of music. In my mind, Ray fits in right behind Pete Seeger in the series of men who speak truth through their art. I don't know Ray's politics except through his songs, but those songs speak to me strongly and this performance, as raw and intimate as it is, sings the heart and soul.

Look with me again at If I Could Hold you in My Arms:

15 March, 2009

Good News Sunday!

Belo Horizonte image courtesy of wikipedia.

As reported in Yes! Magazine and Treehugger by Frances Moore Lappe, there is a city that has actually declared food a human right and ended its own hunger. This is good news on Sunday or any day of the week.

Belo Horizonte, Brazil, has found a way to ensure food security for its citizens and not even spend that much money doing it. About 2% of its budget.

A miracle?

Impossible here in North America where many citizens are eating from Food Banks and the economy has taken a nose dive? Apparently not, because it cost more ingenuity than money, more pulling together than long-winded government studies or bureaucracy.

There are cheap people's restaurants where everyone can eat. There is cheap produce for sale. There is food for everyone. This is a model we should be emulating. Bravo, Belo Horizonte, Brazil, leading the way!

“To search for solutions to hunger means to act within the principle that the status of a citizen surpasses that of a mere consumer.”-CITY OF BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL