Tradition and Technology

This is now my 4th visit to Tokyo as an adult, and I’m finally starting to get familiar with the lay of the land. Since I’ve chosen to not use phone data, I haven’t been able to rely on googlemaps to get around. So when I’ve gotten lost, I’ve had to consciously figure out where I am and sometimes even (gasp!) ask another human for directions! This has actually been a good thing, because it has forced me to be more aware of my surroundings. The one exception was that yesterday Take lent me his iPhone, and I was able to explore without worrying about going the wrong way. Much like New York and many other large cities, Tokyo has a complex subway system (though Tokyo is definitely one of the more clean and organized subway systems I’ve used.), a mixture of old streets and new streets that sometimes overlap in strange ways. It’s very easy to get turned around and lost if don’t have a direct view of the Tokyo Skytree or one of the big temples.

Tokyo seems to have a nice balance between old and new: The temples throughout the city offer a quiet respite from the busy streets and crowded subways, the shoes-off tradition is upheld in many establishments, and it is common to see women walking around in traditional kimonos on their way to special events. Meanwhile, in a newly built shopping mall in Ginza, where sleek elevators lead to 8 levels of fancy stores, there’s a fascinating exhibit where robots are combined with art. Giant robotic arms that are normally used for making machinery parts are programmed to dance gracefully to music and light. In one display, two robots holding LED flashlights play off each other, spinning and twisting in sync as music and projections play around them. In another, a robot holds a fan, and moves delicately in and out of strings of fake butterflies. Another great place is the Mori Art Museum, which is on the 54th floor of Mori Tower at Roppongi Hills. There’s an exhibit there now called The Universe and Art. If you are in Tokyo now, GO. It’s wonderful. There’s an immersive video-soundscape piece that takes you on a journey through a place that feels like outer space. But instead of there being planets, white birds travel at high speed, creating paths of light behind them and they twist and turn and criss-cross through the void. The whole experience takes place in a large room with grey walls and a gray floor, so that you lose all sense of real space. Leading up to this installation, there are several galleries with a variety of artifacts from Galileo’s instruments to photos of astronauts, and a lot of scientific stuff about the possibility of life on Mars. One video presentation that struck me was about a new invention called a Space Elevator. Basically the elevator would start on earth, and take people to a series of space stations farther and farther out. The first stop would be an observatory, the last one would be the launchpad for space ships to Mars. This is a real thing that could happen in our lifetime. Think about that! Top floor, please! And that’s not all. Some scientists think we could make Mars inhabitable by creating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which would warm the planet, melt the ice caps, create oceans and rivers….etc. Greenhouse gases you say? Now there’s something humans are good at!

It’s been a week since I’ve looked at American news or the Facebook feed. It’s too easy to get sucked in and worried about all the bad things that are happening and that might happen, so I’ve consciously avoided it since I’ve been here in Japan. I think it’s necessary for all of us, artists especially, to take breaks from the news and political drama so that we can stay connected to our own positive, creative energy. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be informed and educated, but there’s a lot we can do in our own lives to make the world better, starting by looking at our current surroundings, being nice to others, listening, traveling, connecting with friends and family, making art, and enjoying life on this earth as best we can. And hey, if things get really bad on this planet, maybe we can all hop on that Space Elevator and get on the next ship to Mars.

As for me, I have one day left in Tokyo before I head back to NY. It’s a beautiful day outside, and the city is calling to me.

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Onsen weekend

There’s a town about 3 hours drive north of Tokyo called Nashushiobara, which sits at the foothills of Mount Nasu. The area is known for its natural beauty and for the presence of sulphuric hot springs bubbling up from the ground. Almost every hotel has its own onsen (pronounced “own-sen”), with indoor and outdoor pools where visitors can bathe for no extra charge. During my weekend getaway with Ananda and Takeya, we visited three onsens (one of which was at our hotel), relaxing in pools of various temperatures, some with added minerals for a variety of health benefits. One pool even had giant apples bobbing in the water, which we decided were there just for amusement.

We had two traditional course meals at the hotel, modified only slightly for our vegetarian tastes. We had dinner and breakfast, which to my western sensibilities seemed to consist of mostly the same lineup of dishes. But in both cases, every morsel of food was delicious. Each delicacy was served on a tiny individual plate, so that every bite could be enjoyed on its own. I made sure to try everything so as not to miss out on any flavor, my only regret being that I got so full that I couldn’t finish eating everything.

Other fun experiences from the weekend included a few leisurely strolls through nature, a walk across a very long footbridge, a visit to a temple, and a visit to an untouched sulphur spring where hundreds of tiny statues with red hats sit praying toward the mountain.

This weekend was incredible. Sometimes it’s good to just take a break.

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In Tokyo

Pastries shaped like baby turtles, the softness of the glowing evening lights, calm voices around me—all of these things were a welcome diversion today. My sister Ananda and I visited the National Museum, where we viewed room after room of ancient Japanese scrolls, pottery, art, swords, and then a special exhibit featuring statues of buddhas. We ended the day by eating pizza with her husband Takeya at their favorite Italian place near home. There I tried something new: pizza with a dab of honey on it. Not bad, actually!

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Getting ready for another adventure!

Eight days from now, we will know who our next American president is going to be. More importantly though…eight days from now I’m flying to Japan to visit my sister Ananda! The two things aren’t related, I just happened to have some time off work and want to visit my lil sis. So while this next week might be a stressful time for some of you, at least you can count on one thing that is guaranteed to be awesome after November 8th: the beginning of another adventure blog from yours truly! Follow me as I visit an amazing onsen outside Tokyo, gorge on delicious Japanese food, explore Tokyo, and visit a real Japanese television studio at NHK. More soon!


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Last Day in Italy: Vesuvius

Last day in Italy! L’ultimo giorno in Italia. It’s been a good month. I learned a lot of new words, ate pasta or pizza almost every day, drank a lot of cappuccini from tiny cups, I only watched tv a total of 4 times, I  had some amazing adventures with family and friends, and I did 3 paintings (not as many as I wanted to do, but it’s better than nothing).

This morning Jamie and I climbed to the top of Mount Vesuvius. Oof! My legs are tired. It’s possible to drive almost all the way up, but then there’s still a steep 3 km hike to the rim of the volcano. Along the way, there are souvenir stands, water stands, and taxis hoping to make some cash off tired hikers. It was interesting to see the inside of the volcano, which looks so peaceful and still right now. Looking down over Naples, we saw a low blanket of clouds and off in the distance there were a few other pointy mountains in view.

After a short afternoon nap back at Pompeii Log (our b&b), we forced ourselves to get back outside and go explore Naples. It’s a cool city. Some parts of it reminded me of New York; the crowds, the high end department stores, the traffic. Other parts had the usual tiny cobblestone streets found in so much of Italy. We wandered into a nice museum called The Museo dell’arte Napoli, which had a Picasso painting, “Arlecchino” and some other really nice paintings from lesser known artists. Afterward, we tried fried pizza (Antica Pizza Fritta), which I didn’t even know existed. It was yummy.

Off to Norway and Sweden tomorrow for a few days before going back home to NYC. Bye Italy! I love you, and hope to be back soon.

Grazie di tutto, Italia. Spero di tornare presto a mangiare di più pasta e pizze. Te amo!!

En boca del lupo!


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The Maldives of Puglia

There’s a stretch of beach at the south end of the heel called Pescoluse, which the locals refer to as The Maldives of Puglia. Bingo, we found everyone! Thanks to the satellite feature on googlemaps, we were able to locate a dirt road about 5 minutes from the touristy area, where people were parked for free and where we could just walk onto the beach. The sand was so flat that we could walk waaaay out into the water and still be waste deep. Crystal clear water, perfect temperature….bla bla bla. Another little slice of paradise.

From there we made the drive over to Pompeii, stopping along the way to take a quick look at Gallipoli. Cute. Then we drove through Taranto. Not cute. Looks like the bad parts of Newark. Smokestacks, factories, giant cargo ships, a certain stench. But it looks like a very productive place. Someone’s gotta do the work to get all that olive oil shipped out to the rest of the world.

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Santa Cesarea Terme

It was so hot today. In the 90s! It was a great day to go inside some caves, which are just south of Santa Cesarea Terme. They’re called Zinzalusa, and for 10 Euros, we got a guided tour inside the caves, a boat ride to a nearby grotto, and a dip in the sea (that part was free).

Next we headed over to the nearby town of Castro, which was almost completely deserted. No people anywhere. This could be because in much of Southern Italy everything is closed between 3 and 8 pm, when people either take naps or go to the beach. So we followed suit, and went back to our hotel to take an afternoon nap. After it cooled down a little outside, we headed over to a swimming area at the south end of Santa Cesarea for an evening swim.   The water around here is so clear you can see all the way to the bottom. Also the rocky coastline is protected from big waves, so the water is really calm. It’s so peaceful. Molto tranquillo.

For dinner we went to a pizza restaurant where we were the only people, and got GIANT 60 cm pizzas for about 5 Euros each. Was it the best pizza? No, not really. But it was fun trying to eat all of it! We each at half and took the rest for lunch tomorrow. Again, where was everybody? We started thinking that maybe this is not the high season around here. The whole area feels a little like an empty cruise ship. Lots of places set up for large crowds, but not much happening. It probably gets really crowded in August when Italians have their summer vacation. At our hotel, there are a few other guests, but on our floor the only people we saw were the maid and an old man shuffling down the hall.

If you ever want to have a resort town all to yourself, go to Santa Cesarea Terme in June.

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