Air travel is back to normal. After two and some years of empty airports and empty planes this trip was back to the harsh reality of overcrowded airport and full plane.
I rent a car from my friend Kano san.
I have extreme jet lag. I never used to suffer from this but in my dotage it takes a toll. I deal with important stuff immediately, water machine and health.
I go straight to the local clinic for a full check up. I have received a letter from the Ginowan Town Hall to inform me that, as I am in my dotage, I can have free total check up and flu jab. They see me immediately.
Nagasaki sensei, er the doctor, has become a friend. He gives me a a beautiful pottery beer mug.We understand each other.
OK the boat, I mean that is why I am here in Okinawa really. Kiyuna san calls me. We go to look at the current engine status.
I query Kiyuna san as to the extent of awfulness. Dai jo bu he explains. I fix.
Arisa and I go to a restaurant that is only 2 minutes walk from my place. We have never been before. Its signage is so muted that you can walk by without realizing that it is a restaurant – so Japanese, er good wine needs no bush.
We also had a plate of of delicious fu champuru but we were too far gone on beer and sake to take a photo.
Much happiness is usually accompanied with a balancing quantity of pain.
Returning to my apartment fom the airport, I switch on my computer. It does not respond. It is dead. Ouch! I try other power sources, no sign of life. Oh no!
In desperation, I take the computer to a local computer repair place. This morning, er Sunday, they send me an email saying the computer is OK. It is a miracle
So all of this is good but the really important event of the weekend was the Black Ferns win over England in the Women’s Rugby World Cup Final. England were the favorites; they had been victors in their last 30 games. Victorious but awful. Their game is so negative. Rolling mauls from huge chunks of flesh with zero personality. God bless New Zealand! Their game was based on speed, skill, fun.and personality. It is so rare to see fun vanquish professionalism. Such amazing athletes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=592wZmeH3LA
A reminder that this is my diary. I love looking back to see what I was doing, say 10 years ago and realizing what a pompous fool I was! Not much has changed. Anyway, read it if you want.
I now watch birds with my window open. I am amazed how usually skittish birds don’t seem to mind me sitting about 3 meters away. I have added a hummingbird feeder.
I have been given a job! I have to proofread and edit text for a yearbook. I love doing this. I sit on my couch in front of my wonderfully cosy gas fire and tinker away at the text. To my left is the open window through which I can spot and eventually photograph bird action. Such a good way to pass the time. I will also get paid real money as opposed to the money you see on web bank statements. I will spend all this real money on the best food and wines for one unforgettable meal with friends in Okinawa.
Topher and I drive down to SLAC to have lunch with Melinda. We worked together about 15 years ago. As soon as we get into the main building, people come up and hug and cry and ask for their money back. We have a wonderful time!
Shucks, so good to meet lots of old friends and realize that, although we may not have met for years, we still love one another.
Driving home, I ask Topher when his next trip will be.
“I go to Egypt on Sunday.”
“Where in Egypt?”
“I have to give a talk at COP27.”
I, on the other hand, go to Clement St to get some See’s Candy.
Clement is very Chinese.
The fish shop is full of middle aged Chinese ladies who are all pushing in and squabbling, all in Chinese of course. They remind me of Pygmy Nuthatches. One lady, who has just pushed in front of me and is shouting at the poor serving guy, turns to me when she sees me buying skate and in a very plummy English accent asks,
“Excuse me, what is that fish? I have never tried it?”
“It is skate.”
“How do you cook it?”
“Well, I sauté it in black butter and capers.”
“Do you think I could steam it?”
“I am sure you could.”
“Thank you so much. I has been very nice speaking to you.”
She then turns back to the poor server and lets him have it with both barrels in strident Chinese.
I lived in France in the 1990s. There were only 3 television channels; TF1, A2, France 3. Sometimes on France 3, as part of another show, there would be a cooking demonstration by a lady called Maïté. This was way before cooking shows became popular, way before cuisine minceur, way before popular veganism. Maïté https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maïté cooked old time food from Gascony. There are lots of her videos on YouTube. She relies heavily on meat, wine, armagnac and cream. She never measures quantities, she rarely uses a chopping board but prefers to cut stuff up in her hands Her accent is strong and her delivery verges on anger.
Here is Poule Farcie. It is a joy to watch. I have not been able to track down a poule in San Francisco. It is a hen in English. It is an older bird as distinct from a chicken, which is younger. There are many classic French dishes that need a poule, Poule au Riz, Pot au Feu for example. The bird is simmered for a long time. Today’s chickens would simply fall apart.
I mention Maïté as I have spent a lot of time lately staring out of the window. I have set up a bird feeder and whist checking on birds I also watch YouTube stuff, mainly Maïté.
The feeder was up for about a week before any birds showed up. Then a male Oregon Junco shyly appeared and began to feed. Next day his wife comes too. Notice paler head.
A couple of days later a Chestnut Backed Chickadee shows up.
It is tranquil; the birds do not fight.
Then a bird that I have never seen shows up – a Pygmy Nuthatch. Everything changes.
Within an hour, 8 of them completely take over. They chase off all the other birds fighting and squabbling incessantly. There cannot be many of these birds around here but within minutes the message of free food echoes around the Nuthatch population and they lay siege.
They swarm around the feeder, gorging and bickering. They empty the feeder twice in 2 days. How can such small birds eat so much?
Watching them is addictive. I have my window open and the feeder is only 3 meters from my Maïté couch. The birds seem unconcerned. A Nuthatch flies into my room but flies out again immediately.
A bit of local color before I return to the main narrative. I visit old friend Ken, who is an architect. He designed the Kavli building at SLAC when I was there and caramba when I got to OIST I found he was the architect for our amazing buildings.
He has a house on the coast just near Bean Hollow Beach.
We eat perfect Lengua Tacos in nearby Pescadero.
Anyway back to the birds, as I mentioned, Nuthatches swarmed the feeder.
Just as Maïté is about to eat an Ortolan https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEPMuyGe7dg, a Nuthatch blasts through the window, through my rooms and into the apartment at large. I search but cannot find him, her, them. Immediately, the other Nuthatches disappear from the feeder and have not come back. How do they communicate?
Off I go to the wetlands North of Sacramento. The first of the goose migrators should be there by now and what greater pleasure than watching Snow Geese as the sun goes down, or comes up, for that matter.
It is 17:00hrs ish when I get there. Perfect timing as thousands geese are just flying in to settle for the night after a hard day’s munching.
The difficulty is where to sleep. It is very verboten to spend the night within the perimeter of the Sacramento Wildlife Reserve but legal campsites are a long way away. My aim is to get up before sunrise and watch as the geese take off on their hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work we go, duty.
I drive over to neighboring Willows and have a perfect steak and chips dinner at the Black Bear Diner.
I sneak back into the wildlife preserve under the cover of darkness and set up in a remote corner. There is absolutely no one around. I have my alibi ready. ” I can’t stay here? Oh I am sorry. I am an old man and have dementia. I have also drunk half a bottle of wine and do not think it right to drink and drive. I will be gone by 06:30. I have an English accent. Have mercy etc etc.”
I have forgotten to bring a corkscrew so half my alibi is shot but no worries as no one interrupts my blissful slumber. Too blissful as the sun is rising as I stumble out of the camper.
The Snow Geese have already left! Not one to be seen. Damn. Still, there is lots of other stuff to see.
I have always loved listening to stories. My happiest memories are of awful weather in Scotland; howling winds, lashing rain, impossible to go outside. We, however, are curled up snug on the sofa and armchairs, cuddling orphaned lambs, puppies, kittens as the coal fired Rayburn pumps out heat. For entire afternoons our Mother would read us stories; Masterman Ready, Midshipman Easy, The Call of the Wild, What Katy Did, The Arabian Nights, Bosambo of the River, Swallows and Amazons. As the years passed my Mother was less inclined to spend her time reading me stories and I had to read books on my own.
This I loved too and spent far too much time reading when I should have been playing with my children or paying attention to my wife. However a decade or so ago I started listening to audiobooks. What a revelation! Someone was reading me a story! All I had to do was put my thumb in my mouth and cuddle an orphaned lamb. I almost completely stopped reading. In fact the only thing I have read in the last 10-15 years is the Marine Quarterly.
I try to read but I soon lose concentration. I wonder what Ruby Tui is doing.
I go to YouTube to check on Ruby Tui stuff and before I know it, I am watching University Challenge or Hornblower or old rugby matches or cooking programs etc, etc.YouTube is the ultimate time waster.
I can no longer just read.
Anyway, I head South to Big Sur to try to find the huge Californian Condor. Such a great drive!
I am out for 2 days but do not spot a Condor. Nevertheless, there is of course tons to see.
California is endlessly amazing but will I ever read again?
There is an all day initiation ceremony on Saturday the details of which are kept secret beforehand. On Friday afternoon, Bebo, Ron and I show up at the meadow in the hills above Half Moon Bay where the ceremonial will take place . Wonderful place overlooking the Pacific, however sea mist invades the campsite for most of the time we are there.
I am a PBC, Poor Blind Candidate and as such am treated with disdain by those who have earned the right to wear red. We get straight to it. I mean eating and drinking. I am given humiliating fetch and carry jobs and then set to opening hundreds of oysters.
There are about 50-60 of us camped out on the meadow. Dinner is oysters, pork chops and beans.
No one drinks wine but lash down quantities of spirits with various mixers.
We sit up drinking and talking late into the night. Remarkably I have drunk no alcohol for over a week due to extreme jet lag and dysentery. However I soon find my feet again. I crawl into the camper the worse for wear.
I am immediately enlisted to cook breakfast.
After breakfast we started the initiation tests. There are strict rules. We cannot look at our instructors and have to keep our eyes on the ground. It being Fall and Half Moon Bay being a center of pumpkinoculture, a lot of the exercises are based on pumpkin stuff. There is very strict supervision to make sure we do not spill seed on the ground.
We have two history lessons. The first is by the owner of the property, also a Clamper, who gives fascinating talk on the early days of Half Moon Bay.
Then the Emperor Norton himself, head of the Mother Lodge Yerba Buena #1 Capitulus Redivivus, hopefully my chapter to be, takes over and provides a detailed history of E Clampus Vitus. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emperor_Norton
Here is a picture of the Emperor in everyday clothes.
We have to learn history. We have to learn several songs and Clamper sign language. We play bowling using pumpkins as bowling balls. This results in much spilt seed and fury from our invigilators. Each seed has to be picked up with all pumpkin interior sludge and dropped inside the costume of a mysterious character called The Frog.
We break for lunch.
Training completed, we are blindfolded and led in single file, each holding the shoulder of the man in front, into the ceremonial hall. We have to chant Clamper songs as we go and are derided by the 50 or so Clampers who are watching.
The final induction ceremony must remain a mystery, but it involves a ancient staff!
I make it! I am admitted! What an honor for a poor boy from Scotland!
Thanks E Clampus Vitus for accepting me, a foreigner, into your ranks. Such fun, with a refreshing rejection of healthy living!
There is an onslaught of heavy drinking after the ceremonial and dinner to come. I have to get back to the city that night and so do not join. One thing that Japan has taught me is Do not Drink and Drive.
Another typhoon passes by. Luckily the worst and it seems to be bad, goes well North of Okinawa.
Notwithstanding, there is a lot of wind and rain.
Lots of birds shelter from the wind.
Tim and Mary are leaving and return to London at the end of the month. Boo hoo! A party is thrown in their honour. It is great to see lots of old OIST buddies again. There is a 15ish piece brass dance band from the University of the Ryukyus. They are called Mojo and are fantastic but very, very loud. I have become increasingly uncomfortable in places with high volume noise, I mean music. It reminds me of the trenches.
A bunch of us head North on the kind invitation of Ichiro san and Tomomi san. I drive up very slowly and delight in the van loads of election canvassers who wave at everyone wearing both white gloves and huge smiles. Saturday was polling day for representatives of the local regions and also the Governor.
Tomomi and Ichiro produce another extraordinary meal in Ichiro san’s studio.
Ichiro san produces the main course, which he has been cooking for 4 days.
What an evening!
Next morning we leave at 05:30 to track down the elusive Okinawan Rail or Yanbaru Kuina in Japanese. It is one of the rarest birds in the world. Ichiro san immediately spots one roosting.
We return to the hotel for delicious Japanese breakfast.