End-of-winter-break dinner at BJ’s Brewhouse, after which the boy headed back to school for his final semester . . .
I had lunch over the weekend with Robert Hass — Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, UC Berkeley professor and former Poet Laureate of the United States. When I say I had lunch with him, I mean he was one of five people seated at our table.
I asked to take a photo with him, which he graciously consented to. I don’t have any photos of myself with Pulitzer Prize winners and still don’t because the photo didn’t come out at all. I completely botched it somehow.
So that was probably the lowlight of my weekend, except for Cal getting blown out by Washington on the gridiron 31-7, while four Husky fans sat directly behind us screaming the whole game.
Football at Cal unfortunately is like academics at Washington: not terribly distinguished.
Yes, those are World Books and Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. No, this is not an archaeological dig. It’s a furniture store we visited over the weekend.
When I was growing up, our family, like many American families at that time, had a set of World Book encyclopedias, so I knew they existed but I haven’t actually seen one in decades.
Reader’s Digest Condensed Books are a relic from a time when many Americans still liked to think of themselves as the kind of people who read books but didn’t want to actually read a whole, entire book. Reader’s Digest stripped out all the boring passages about clouds and such that people don’t read and compressed four or five books into the size of one.
Today, of course, no one reads books at all, with or without the cloud passages, so Reader’s Digest Condensed Books have joined World Book encyclopedias in the dustbin of history.
The Buca di Beppo restaurant in Irvine is closing tomorrow. We stopped in this evening for a final meal. It was a sad occasion. Buca has been one of our culinary mainstays for over a decade. Here we are laughing to keep from crying:
We had antipasto salad and baked ziti, a very close call over the spicy chicken rigatoni.
This grinning nitwit is standing on the deck of the Stadium Club:
Jigokudani Monkey Park (Jigokudani Yaen Koen) is in Yamanouchi, Shimotakai District, Nagano Prefecture, Japan. It is part of the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park (locally known as Shigakogen), and is located in the valley of the Yokoyu-River, in the northern part of the prefecture. The name Jigokudani, meaning “Hell’s Valley”, is due to the steam and boiling water that bubbles out of small crevices in the frozen ground, surrounded by steep cliffs and formidably cold and hostile forests.
The heavy snowfalls (snow covers the ground for 4 months a year), an elevation of 850 metres, and being only accessible via a narrow two kilometre footpath through the forest, keep it uncrowded despite being relatively well-known.
It is famous for its large population of wild Japanese Macaques (Macaca fuscata), more commonly referred to as Snow Monkeys, that go to the valley during the winter, foraging elsewhere in the national park during the warmer months. Starting in 1963, the monkeys descend from the steep cliffs and forest to sit in the warm waters of the onsen (hotsprings), and return to the security of the forests in the evenings.
Today we ventured into the cold and hostile forests above Nagano to visit the legendary snow monkeys.
The monkeys aren’t friendly or unfriendly. They don’t approach you but they don’t try to stay away from you either. They might sit still for a selfie but they won’t smile.
We stayed the night at a ryokan (bed and breakfast) in nearby Yudanaka Onsen, a hot spring resort, where we enjoyed traditional accomodations, including a multi-course Japanese dinner and sleeping on the floor (on tatami mats and futons).
Our room didn’t have beds but it did have a flat-screen TV. There’s a limit to how much deprivation up with which a traveler is willing to put.
The site of Kinkaku-ji was originally a villa called Kitayama-dai, belonging to a powerful statesman, Saionji Kintsune. Kinkaku-ji’s history dates to 1397, when the villa was purchased from the Saionji family by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and transformed into the Kinkaku-ji complex. When Yoshimitsu died, the building was converted into a Zen temple by his son, according to his wishes.
During the Onin war, all of the buildings in the complex aside from the pavilion were burned down. On July 2, 1950, at 2:30 am, the pavilion was burned down by a 22-year-old novice monk, Hayashi Yoken, who then attempted suicide on the Daimon-ji hill behind the building. He survived, and was subsequently taken into custody. The monk was sentenced to seven years in prison, but was released because of mental illnesses (persecution complex and schizophrenia) on September 29, 1955; he died of tuberculosis shortly after in 1956.
The present pavilion structure dates from 1955, when it was rebuilt.
Nishijin weaving was created in Kyoto over 1200 years ago by using many different types of colored yarns and weaving them together into decorative designs. These specialized procedures are tedious, but necessary to obtain the spectacular design needed to ensure the quality of Nishijin weaving.
What the blurb above means is that images and patterns are not dyed after the fabric has been produced, the yarn is dyed before weaving, which yields the finest quality but is much harder to create.
We participated in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, involving the preparation and presentation of matcha, a powdered green tea.
Fun fact: You don’t enter the tea room through that big opening in the front. You sort of crawl in through a small door on the right-hand side, which you can’t see in the photo. There’s a traditional reason for this, something to do with samurai not bringing swords to the tea ceremony (they won’t fit through the little door), but in modern times, it seems a bit of an unnecessary ordeal.
We took the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Kyoto to Atami. These trains run on time. If the board says the train leaves at 3:12, it leaves at 3:12. Don’t show up at 3:13 and wonder where your train went.
In Atami, we enjoyed a traditional Japanese dinner, so traditional that our guide was unsure of what a couple of the items were. Atami is on the eastern coast and has a spectacular fireworks display that they shoot off over the bay.