Made by you and I

Two Views

One of two castles in Nagasaki. Points if you know which one.

One of two castles in Nagasaki. Points if you know which one.

Two views from up top and one from down below.
One gives you something to aspire to,
The others show your reach.

The northern view of the sea. My hotel is down there.

The northern view of the sea. My hotel is down there.

The southern view from the top of the castle. It's pouring rain.

The southern view from the top of the castle. It’s pouring rain. (of course).

Come say Happy Birthday!

I was tall for my age.  And since both my parents were around five foot, my dad demanded a paternity test early on. ;)

As a teen I was swarthy and already six-foot by junior high school. I easily got into R-rated movies and, even though underage, in high school I could buy beer, something which greatly expanded my social circles.

Then sometime in my early twenties looking older was no longer a boon. I wanted to look young and with the magic words, “I am” I could be five to ten years older or younger without a second glance. The trick works even better the other way. I simply ask, with a slightly incredulous tone, “well, how old do you think I am?”. The answer can shave 10 – 15 years off without any cosmetic expense.

birthday cake

For decades I’ve made a game out of hiding my age, so much so that no one believes me when I tell them the truth. So how old am I? Well, I just celebrated my 152nd birthday.

The game started when I turned 26. I had the baker write Happy Anniversary instead of Happy Birthday, put a large candle in the shape of the numerals ’25’ and celebrated the anniversary of my 25th birthday. That party started a tradition of celebrating the anniversary of whatever year I wanted to celebrate — until this year.

I’m quite serious when I tell people I’m going to live well into my 100’s. My mom had me at 40; my dad was 52. My aunts and uncles on both sides died well into their 70’s, some lingering on into their 90’s even though they all ate horrifically rich foods, drank heavily, smoked, and were stressed into heart disease and ulcers. I’ve had none of that. I’ve always eaten healthily, almost never drink, can’t even handle the smell of tobacco and have zero stress in my life. If I can avoid accents I’ve got the nature and nurture to live to be at least 150 — and, with medical science progressing as it has, I truly believe that I will.

So from this year I decided to celebrate my future birthdays, perhaps those I might not have and so I had the baker put this on my cake and had a couple of fantastic birthday parties this year. (Why limit yourself to one?)

So here is to me this year and for many, many, many, many years after.

I walked into the classroom to find this "portrait" of me on the white board.Not bad for. . .

, I walked into the classroom to find this “portrait” of me on the white board.Not bad for. . . Wait. How old am I really?

Self-Possession in a Garden of Delight

From the orchards in Dejima, Nagasaki.
persimmon tree, black and white adjustment.

persimmon tree, black and white adjustment.

Early this year I walked into my bedroom showered, tired, and ready for bed. Flipped the light. Baby spider was on my pillow. We both looked at each other for a beat. I charged, it JUMPED behind the bed, and I slept in the other room. I am not an arachnophob. Not really. Unnerved. Unsettled. Proof that they live amongst us both fascinates me and puts me on edge and, yes, terrifies me.

Persimmons in the rain

Persimmons in the rain

Walking through Dejima’s orchards and gardens in the rain — umbrella in one hand, camera in the other — I dodged a few spiders perched eye level to me (because no one else walking though is 192cm/6’4″ they can spin their webs lower than I’d like) until I walked face first into one.

Instinct and expectations collided — I am a man, I can not scream!

Grapes with sunbeam.

Grapes with sunbeam.

I shuddered deeply from within, shook my head violently from side to side, managed to drop my shoulder bag on the wet ground and land my camera on top. With one self possessed step forward I practically undulated with complete and total revulsion and fear. I don’t know how I didn’t scream or completely freak out in a dance.

Tomatoes in the garden.

Tomatoes in the garden.

I couldn’t bring myself to pat myself down for a spider check so dropped my umbrella over my camera and calmly walked over to a near by gardner and told what happened. I asked if he wouldn’t mind checking if I missed any “web” on my person.

I was spider free.

persimon tree color version.

persimon tree color version.

I am in awe of what social expectations and a ridged idea of how one thinks they should behave can, thankfully, reign in even the primeval emotions hidden deep, deep within. Remember that the next time you get pissed at someone. ;)

And ladies and gentlemen, that is how I’ve come to post this set of pics from Nagasaki.

Black and white grapes.

From the orchards in Dejima, Nagasaki.

The samurai and the merchant

made with nik filters summer vacation 2014

made with nik filters summer vacation 2014

The day I arrived in Nagasaki the sky was overcast and it rained intermittently throughout the day. My first stop was the temple Sofukuji, then off to Glover House, nearby Chinatown, and finally Dejima, the remains of the only trading port open to Western people during the Edo Era.

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Today, Dejima is kind of like an ongoing Renaissance faire, only with samurai and merchants trying to keep character despite obligatory photos with iTech and digital cameras. The city of Nagasaki has unearthed, restored or rebuilt the original structures (excavation work is ongoing). Inside these buildings are exhibits explaining how trade enriched — or changed — the people and living standards, along with personal anecdotes from texts written during the era. The whole is really entertaining.

inori, used for brewing tea and cooking

Inori, used for brewing tea and cooking.

water and ladle drawn from a local well

cistern and ladle with water drawn from a local well

Largely vegetarian, Edo era Japanese needed to make concessions for their foreign guests

Largely vegetarian, Edo era Japanese needed to make concessions for their foreign guests

Business was carried out with an abacus and green tea

Business was carried out with an abacus and green tea

Bonsai

Bonsai: The power and potential of a great pine contained.

It's hard to wield a sword when you're smiling

It’s hard to wield a sword when you’re smiling

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Kitchen details in a port town during the Edo Era.

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The merchant would sit behind his abacus and ink and discuss the terms of trade with the captains from ships who were allowed into Japan at the time.

Nagasaki and my first Photoshop

The guardians of the temple: Teachers.
My first Photoshopped photo. They say you'll always remember your first time.

My first Photoshopped photo. They say you’ll always remember your first time.

Nagasaki is is one of the two southernmost places in the four islands which make up Japan. It’s blisteringly hot in the summer with unrelenting humidity, unless you went last month. Some of the perks to traveling in the rain are the mild temperature, no sunburn, and perspiration-free. I’ve been to Nagasaki in the summer and I was grateful for the overcast.

Nagasaki was rebut after the war. The city is a mix of the remainders of the rushed post-war architecture, historical buildings which survived the bomb, and The New, all laid out along steep slopes and waterways. There is still a sizable Chinese community there. Along with a grand Chinatown there is the Sofukuji Temple built upon foundations which survived the bombing in 1945. I arrived there just after it opened. Shortly after one of the monks, a young man who was brought over from a rural provence in China, came in to do his morning libations while I was setting up my tripod. We hit it off immediately. He explained everything to do with the temple, told me about his life, and asked that I take his picture — a lot of pictures.

He’s about 155cm and solid muscle. He, along with other monks in China, practice martial arts as part of their training. We played around with my camera for a couple of hours, became Facebook friends, and I was on my way.

I only edited the above pic of him in Photoshop to smooth out his skin. Most everything I could do in Lightroom, including fix some overblown pics from my iPhone.

The main deity within Sofukuji temple, Nagasaki, an ancient king.

I could not decide which I liked better. The main deity within Sofukuji temple, Nagasaki, an ancient king.

nagasaki sofukuji interior

Without increased exposure. The main deity within Sofukuji temple, Nagasaki, an ancient king.

 

temple detail, story engraved into a chest with weapons in the foreground

temple detail, story engraved into a chest with weapons in the foreground

 

A monk in the main temple

A monk in the main temple

 

temple detail, outside

temple detail, outside

 

temple detail, outside

temple detail, outside

 

My friend showing why you need to take a monk seriously.

My friend showing why you need to take a monk seriously.

 

Detail inside the temple

Detail inside the temple

 

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I need an intervention! Nagasaki and Photoshop

boy in heart shaped glasses

boy in heart shaped glasses I bought instant coffee.

I remember that first hit off my Nikon bong. I thought I could handle it — I really did, but before long I was in for a major headtrip in Lightroom. Before these addictions started eating away my life I was just a normal man engaged in average things: Molecular gastronomy, Marvel Comics and the New 52, Japanese pop music, yoga and free weights. And dinner parties. I loved throwing weekend dinner parties.

This year I got into blogging and got into the routine each morning of making a pot of espresso, opening up WordPress, and engaging with people until the caffeine kicked in. But two days ago I opened Photoshop. Have you ever opened Photoshop?

Detail from a larger work at the Yokohama Triennial .

Detail from a larger work at the Yokohama Triennial .

It’s h a r  d.

Nothing is intuitive.

I got the Fundamentals series from Lynda.com and that was it. Lost time. I was late for work — did not hear the phone ring when they called; I forgot to eat; and I ended up buying instant coffee because I couldn’t tear myself away from my iMac to look for my Starbuck’s Bean’s Card — It is impossible to do M.R. in the morning with instant coffee!

SShogi in Nagasaki Chinatown

Shogi in Nagasaki Chinatown

So here I sit, sifting through copies of copies of copies of re-edited photos of the next stop on my photo journey, Nagasaki. The rains were building in intensity, the anniversary of the nuclear bomb was approaching, and people all over Japan were beginning their summer Obon Holiday, so despite the weather everyplace was packed. I had a great time. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow if I can get a handle on these Adobe cravings.

Detail from the Chinese temple Kofukuji in Nagasaki

Detail from the Chinese temple Kofukuji in Nagasaki

An American festival in Tokyo

odaiba american festival japan

Odaiba, which I’ve posted on before, held an “American Festival”. I needed to know. If Japan is sushi, samurai, manga in the US, what is America in Japan? Oh, you don’t want to know.

I was going to take photos but I knew I’d be taking them to jab and jeer.

I will briefly outline the people and venue: Every worker was dressed in denim shirts AND jeans with HUGE cowboy hats. Over that women wore white homestead aprons and/or Aunt Jemima-esq headscarves. The shops were cooking up huge steaks on BBQ’s and the Budweiser was everywhere. On either side of the audience/tables were food stalls with steaks, the Japanese interpretation of pulled pork (if you think you’ve been eating Teriyaki chicken and sushi where you are, I’ve got a surprise for you), and SPAM. Oh, and used clothing bins, boxed cake mixes, and toy guns because that’s America folks, used clothes and guns. Yes, sir.

Picture it: The average Japanese person is about 170 – 175 cm and narrow waisted. Their Texas belt buckles were like shields and their poor little heads peaking out from those hats — oh, lord. No. No photographs — for their sake — save the stage, which was playing an unusual bossa nova/jazz with Japanese lyrics because that’s how we roll in the states.

odaiba american festival japan

Odaiba is popular and crowded all the time. The rest of Odaiba was packed with people; however . . . .

odaiba american festival japan

I felt so bad them. The people in the shops were doing the best to bring in customers but….  I, too, abandoned them and took a walk around some of my favorite places. I came back a few times but I never saw it any more crowded twenty people in that HUGE venue.

odaiba american festival japanYup. There’s one here, too. Lady Liberty’s sister. I suspect that’s why they chose Odaiba for the American Festival.

fuji tv building odaiba

I love this building. It’s the Fuji TV building. With a little tilt shift I can do this now.

fuji tv building odaiba

And a day in Odaiba without a sculpture of a bird flying overhead and a beautiful sunset is incomplete.

fuji tv building odaiba sculpture

fuji tv building odaiba sculpture sunset

How to make a rainy day okay

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I didn’t want it to rain during my vacation. I didn’t plan for it. I didn’t expect it, but it rained every single day. That first day, in my white linen shorts and black underpants (never again), I knew whether I enjoyed myself was entirely up to me.

So when things don’t go the way you plan, the sky seems — or is — gray, do as I did with this series of photos: Lighten the mood; find the beauty; be grateful for what is, not unhappy about what isn’t.

naoshima art island beach

naoshima art island beach naoshima art island street naoshima art island temple naoshima art island temple naoshima art island naoshima art island naoshima art island naoshima art island naoshima art island

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a rainy day — or a gray mood, but you do have the power to lighten either one.

naoshima art island

Naoshima, light on a rainy day

art Page 7

How to talk about something which is an individual impression and which is forbidden to photograph or draw? Naoshima Chichibu Art Museum.

The rains were heaviest when I arrived on the island peaking with several squalls sending rain down the long winding roads as a rivers into the sea. No traffic moved until the intensity lessened to a hard rain. With a dozen others, I waited in the ferry terminal (link to pictures) till about ten a.m. after which we piled into a tiny shuttle bus and were motored twenty minutes up and through the hilly terrain to the Chichibu Art Museum where we purchased our tickets and walked the prerequisite half kilometer up the slope to the actual art galleries, designed by Tadao Ando.

The three galleries are built into the hill to preserve the landscape. I invite you to read about the three artists and their projects. James Turrell, Walter De Maria, and Claude Monet. You can not photographic what is inside (you must check in your bags and the gallery staff are watching for cell phones). All works have to do with light. No image can truly capture what is there. The number of people who can enter a gallery is limited, maximum eight, leading to a build of anticipation before you enter each work with time for your eyes to adjust to the specific lighting in each area.

One of three works by James Turrell is a room with eight marble steps leading up to a neon blue painting which, we discover upon ascending, is actually a room filled with blue light. We are invited to enter into the room, which by optical illusion, becomes a wide white void once you’re inside. The people in my group were using words like “floating”, “boundless”, ” limitless”. The effect is tranquil and recalled, for me, the idea that when we die we enter into a white light of love and warmth — you lose your orientation inside. Turn around and you’ll see a beautiful orange light painting, which is the room you were is just in, floating within the void — another optical illusion impossible to truly photograph.  (The image below is from Getty Images and is of a different James Turrell work to give you an idea of what I’m writing about. Clicking the image will take you to more of his work.)

Monet’s Water Lilies are in another gallery of smooth white light, a floor in white marble mosaic, and walls smoothed of all angles. Click this link for a 360 degree tour of the room. 

My favorite room was Walter De Maria’s. I managed to sneak two cell phone photos before I was caught — and curtly reprimanded. The room is illuminated by a rectangular hollow in the ceiling letting in natural light allowing the room to change minute by minute –there is no artificial light in the picture below. In the center of two ascending flights of stairs is a large round marble sculpture polished so finely that it mirrors all the light in the room like a fisheye photograph might. The effect is mesmerizing. I stood back from all angles within the space and observed: Every one was equally facinated by the effect. (The photo below is also from Getty Images. Click the photo for more work by the artist.)

By the end of my stay there I felt as though I’d meditated all day. I listened to other people echo this feeling. Even with the pouring rain and all the discomforts in getting there everyone found their own zen by the end. Below are the two images I was able to capture. Because the room is partly about the play of light I used this as an opportunity to see how light affects the great sphere (through Lightroom). That tiny spec in the center is me. I think of these as a composite self portrait. :)

art Page 1 art Page 3 art Page 4 art Page 5 art Page 2

 

Idli

idli and sambar

idli and sambar

 

Idli is not originally an Indian dish, but an import to India — I’m full of trivia. :)

When I was at CII idli was not on the menu, so to speak. A fermented mixture of beans and rice, steamed, then served with chutney or sambar, idli is a home cooked dish which you can sometime find out.

Idli batter follows the same steps as dosa, but idli is steamed rather than cooked on a hot griddle. There is what’s called an idli steamer you can purchase to make the standard shape, but you can also make them in ramkins or mandoline trays you fit into a steamer.

idli tray

Idli is a fermented dish, which depending on how long you ferment can be bland with the flavor of rice to a slightly sour flavor to it not unlike a very mild yogurt. However you like it, they pairs well with spicy coconut curries and sambar. The living bacteria become active the first few minutes in the steamer producing gas — causing the idli to rise — before the heat kills the bacteria. The rice absorbs water and sets their slightly domed shape. This makes them somewhat porous and spongy, perfect to absorb something souplike (such as sambar).

There are sweet versions of idli. Many use  palm sugar called jagery and dried fruits or nuts. More artful presentations can be made by adding decorative slices of vegetables to the idli pan before adding the batter, or mixing in bits of this and that to add flavor and eye appeal.

These days Indian families, short on patience, are searching for a quick fix to the overnight rise. The alternative to the overnight ferment? The addition of an antacid product. Think plop, plop; fizz, fizz giving rise to the batter which holds long enough until set, the product is called Eno.

With a food processor idli batter is simple to make and with a little imagination you can make it even without the idli pan — so give it a go.

home-30July 29, 201450 mmISO 100-Edit

For even cooking it is imperative that you line up the holes under the batter so that the steam will evenly heat all the idli at once.

Perhaps the best part about idli is what you can do with the leftovers. Idli is best served fresh from the steamer. Make a few extra and the next morning deep fry them for a high protein crisp faux-french fry. (Photos coming soon.)

 

 

What follows are the step by step instructions for idli.

 

Step one: Find a ratio of beans to rice, and chose a rice.

I’ve come to like the texture from 1 cup beans to 3 cups uncooked rice. Dosa can be made with only beans and upwards to 1:5 beans:rice. The more rice, the fluffier the end product. I’ve met people who insist dosa is made from parboiled, jasmine, short grain and sometimes long. Myself, I’ve even made it with brown rice.

Rava, Indian parboiled rice which has been powdered, can be purchased online through a grocer. Alternatively, parboiled rice, such as Uncle Bens in the US, can be soaked with the beans and purred in the mixer. I’ve experimented with uncooked Japanese short grain brown and white rice soaked overnight and ground with the beans. These idli were less light, but good in a pinch and perfect for deep frying later.

Step two: Soak your beans and rice.

Urad dal has a bacteria which will ferment, so it is imperative that you do not wash the beans if you want the ferment. You can soak the beans and rice together, or apart, but soak at least 8 hours.

Some say that soaking the beans and rice apart makes the batter lighter, but with what machine you grind, how long you soak, how thick the batter is, and how much rice you use will all will contribute to how to how light your idli are.

Vitamix filled with dosa/idli mixture.

Vitamix filled with dosa/idli mixture.

Step three: Grind the beans and rice together.

Drain the beans and rice. For a faster ferment, use all or some of the water to grind the beans and rice. My young friend used a blender, I use a Vitamix, some homes use a Mixi, the shops in India use a stone or industrial wet grinder. The consistency should be like pancake batter. You can always add water to your batter later, so it’s okay if your batter is thick.

 

Step four: To ferment or not.

Fermenting will give the dosa a sourdough like flavour and lighten the batter. Simply cover and leave in a warm place overnight. If the ferment doesn’t take, put a ladle of the batter in a bowl and add 3 or 4 tablespoons of whole fenugreek seeds, which share the same bacteria as the urad dal. Pour the cup of batter back into the main batter through a strainer (to remove the seeds), stir and cover. If your home is too cold, try placing the batter in the oven or near a heater.

Well fermented dosa batter. Notice the texture. The air bubbles will make your dosa light.                Personal note, this batter is a bit thick because I prefer thicker texture.

Well fermented dosa batter. Notice the texture. The air bubbles will make your dosa light. Personal note, this batter is thick as I wanted thicker dosa.

Alternatively, you can add citrus acid and baking soda . It’s a short cut some people use, but only just before you use the batter.

Step five: Making idli.

First, place about 1/2 inch of water into your steamer.

Lightly oil your idli trays or moulds.

Turn on the burner under the pot and when the water is at a rolling boil carefully put the insert into the steamer, close the lid, and turn down the heat to a low setting. Set the timer for 20 minutes and do not open the pot again or you will lose the steam.

When their time is up remove them from the pan and let them cool for two or three minutes.

Remove with a rubber spatula and serve — they are exceptional.

 

.home-95July 30, 2014105 mmISO 100-Edit

To personalize idli think about these questions during each step:

Step one: Soaking.

  • Do I need a complete protein? Adjust my ratio of beans to rice.
  • What texture do I want? Lighter and crispier, more rice. Softer? More beans.

Step two: Liquify the beans and rice.

  • Do I want a thin dosa? More water.
  • Do I want a thick dosa? Less water.

Steps three and four: Grinding and fermenting.

  • Do I want it sour? Ferment it over night. Keep the fermented batter in the fridge for a week, it will keep indefinity and the sourness will icrease.
  • I don’t want to ferment, but I want a sour flavor. Add yogurt or whey in place of some of the water when blending and don’t ferment.
  • I want it light, but without the ferment. Use fruit salts (it’s sold as an antacid, but used in the kitchen for an artificial ferment).
  • I want it to be flavorful: Add one or two tablespoons of a different kind of bean when grinding. Or, mix in a powdered bean or spice just before using.
  • Add a healthy pinch of salt to add flavor.

Step five: Cook

  • Do you have the idli pan? Look around your kitchen for something that you can use to steam such as ramekins or doughnut pans.

idli and sambar

This post is long and detailed, which might dissuade you from making Idli, or it’s cousin, Dosa. That is my error in trying to be thorough. My larger point is that the formula and technique for the batter can be modified. By going into detail I hope you do try both idli and dosa in the usual Indian style — they are wonderful, full of flavour, and healthy. But I also hope you experiment in your kitchens, especially if you’re vegetarian. Myself, I’ve used the batter to make “crepe layer cakes”, faux-enchiladas, psudo-blitzes, and mock-quesidillas.

See through me

summer vacation iphone jpegs-94August 03, 20144.12 mmISO 320

summer vacation iphone jpegs-94August 03, 20144.12 mmISO 320-2

My last evening in Okayama ended with a huge fireworks display. The next morning I woke at 5:00 a.m. to catch the earliest train to the pier for a ferry ride over to Naoshima. What you’ll need to remember for length of the series is that I had three pairs of short pants for a one-month trip: One bright white linen pair (from last years trip to Spain), black workout shorts, and plaid Abercrombie; I packed three tank tops and matching overs shirts; and I only had the crocs on my feet.

I went downstairs dressed in the white linen shorts and a tank top, sunglasses on (because I do not do five a.m.) to Noah’s rain. I didn’t know it then, but that rain and those white linen shorts were not a good match.

The last image I took on the way out of Okayama was Spiderman unmasked. The other image is what Naoshima is about.

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Short people

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Many people like the words ‘I’m blessed’, for me it’s more like I’ve made some really good decisions.

I used to think I wanted children, then my friends started producing them, I stated babysitting, and all my paternal feeling went down the commode. I am so grateful to be gay. I will never, ever come home to Hiro knitting baby booties.

Don’t misunderstand, I enjoy being around children. I’ve two jobs in which I get to work with young people (whom I call short people): One a high school and the other an ‘English School’, where I work with kids 3 to 17. (I adore the itty bitty ones, but only for forty minutes. After that I’ve had enough. With high school kids it depends on their hormone levels for the day, but half a day is about right.)

The larger point is that I chose not to have children — No, thank you! — and chose instead a job that gives me that familial feel without any of the paternal responsibly. I’ve been doing this long enough that I have watched a few go from knee-high to engaged. At this past weekend’s bunkasai, those graduated kids I mentioned came back all grown up, many already in careers. Watching them grow up puts my own life in perspective and keeps my heart filled with boundless optimism: I watch short people who can barely stand grow into adults who make our world go round.

(It’s often really hard for me to chose between the monochrome and color. Which do you prefer?)

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