A One Time Event

“Let’s try it once, so we can say we’ve done it. And then let’s never do it again.”

“Agreed.”

I’ve been curious, so very, very curious.

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I have a lot of angry feelings about how Japan harvests from the sea – the tuna population is in collapse, changes to yearlong trawling practices are going slowly and against a hungry market that demands cheap fish. Then there is the whaling. Japanese whaling has faced a lot of criticism because Japanese ships sail well into the ocean to harvest whales, and does so by exploiting (a strong word, but an accurate one) loopholes in the global ban on commercial whaling.

It’s a part of Japanese history. It’s also on the menu at the sushi restaurant Liam and I found at Yokohama. I’ve been looking for a replacement conveyor belt sushi restaurant ever since my favorite shut down. We found this friendly, smelly restaurant tucked in behind a pachinko parlor and across the street from a trendy new pizzeria bar. The waiter provided us a flashcard menu with pictures accompanied by Japanese, Korean, and English names.

I have avoided whale since coming to Japan on moral grounds, but I have also been curious about the taste. What could be so alluring about whale that it continues to be hunted for food, despite not accounting for any significant portion of the Japanese diet?

One portion, one piece for each of us.

The meat was a dark – almost purple like the skin of an eggplant, except it was also red. Full of mild, moral trepidation, I ate the whale. I would like to say it tasted horrible, or had a bad mouth feel like a chunk of squid. It did not.

I don’t know if it’s ok to tell you, my reader, what the whale tasted like. I do not want to encourage you to try it and see for yourself. While I did not find the taste repulsive, I didn’t find it delicious enough to condone the practice of getting it.

That is perhaps what you should take away from my experience – whale tastes fine, but it doesn’t taste good enough to warrant killing the whale for it. Don’t go out and see for yourself. Take my word for it.

Current Events

I won’t write about the election. I know this is the space to do so, but I don’t think my voice is going to tip any scale out there.

There has been too much about it. Too much noise, too many opinions, too much grief, too much glee. And the instant backlash in too many directions – suck it up, love with love, be angry, don’t be angry, keep your head down, fight the power, love thy neighbor. It’s like America is a rubber band that snapped back in on itself after being pulled too tight.

I will say this: my students don’t know what to say, or what to ask. They can’t believe it. One of my older students is afraid. One of my economics students is worried about the TPP. Some laugh, because they believe he is a joke and don’t understand enough about politics to see what he means for my country. They ask me what I think, how I feel, and what it all means.

What would you say?

Here’s what I’ve been saying, “Well, I’m scared. I’m upset. I’m confused. But I have English to teach, and we have work to do.” And I leave it at that. Soapboxing here does nothing. I am honest, because it’s best. I am brief, because I won’t waste words that will go misunderstood. And I focus on my work, because otherwise I’d start ranting and raving, which doesn’t help my EFL students and doesn’t help me.

I feel as though anyone who goes abroad has an obligation to build good relationships and set a good example. Now? Now I’ll have to work harder, because now we have a president who is regarded as a dangerous buffoon by the global community. Now I’ll be pre-judged, and I’ll have to try and explain what is going on back home.

I know people on both sides. I pass judgments of my own, but judgment doesn’t solve problems. Communication is essential. Teaching is essential.

 

So that is what I do. I teach.

Paris: Never a Dull Louvre

We have a late start from the hotel – sleep is not forthcoming, despite my best efforts and not taking naps on day 1. So we don’t get out the door until close to 10am. This is not so bad, as I have given one whole day to visiting the most famous of museums, the Louvre.

(This is not my photo of the Louvre. I entered from underground. Thank you, internet!)

The scope of the Louvre cannot be understated. It’s easy to get turned around in its many halls. I’ve been there several times, and I still have to check my map often. There are three wings, each with three floors, and one with a fourth. There are special auditorium halls, a mall, two cafes, and the exterior plazas and courtyards. The maps are crucial, helpful, and come in a dozen languages.

 Note: The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, as are more national museums in France.

Note 2: The Louvre entrance is conveniently located at the ligne 1 stop Palais Royale/Musee du Louvre. If you get off at the Louvre/Rivoli stop, you’ll be outside the Louvre and have to walk in. The Musee du Louvre stop links to the carousel (the underground shopping mall and entrance to the museum). You’ll miss the glass pyramid, but you can go outside when you’re done. If you really want to see the glass Pyramid and the beautiful exterior of the building first, then take one of the other three sorties at Palais Royal or ride to Louvre/Rivoli.

There are many very famous pieces in the Louvre – the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the large paintings of Delacroix, the Venus de Milo, etc. And, of course, the Mona Lisa (La Jaconde as she is called in France). To see these highlights will take some walking, but it is entirely doable to see them all in a single visit. Use the map (and crowds) to guide you. Nike of Samothraki has her own staircase, at the juncture of the Denon and Sully halls.

For the art historian, it helps to know what you want to see. You’ll go numb in the brain just walking the Louvre, covering thousands of years of art from all over the globe. There are Italian masters and Egyptian carvings. You can go from Ancient Greece to 19th century Netherlands, and that’s just what’s on the walls! So narrow it down – do you want to see French painters? Ancient Greek marbles? Look at the map and find a genre. You can go wandering around later, but don’t start out lost.

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“The Arrival of the Harvesters” by Robert Louis-Leopold. It’s difficult to see here, but the women are gloriously skeptical of the harvester, who is trying to use his hips to get attention. If he truly wanted to impress them, he should show them how much wheat he harvested. Nothing impresses the ladies like yield.

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“The Veiled Lady” by Antonio Corradini

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“The Death of Sardanopoulos” by Eugene Delacroix. Perhaps one of my favorite pieces in the Louvre, because of the flow of form and tension. I feel like this large picture really captures the sensation of pulling/bracing against something, especially in the highlighted figures in the bottom right quarter of the canvas.

I like to go up to the top floor of Sully, where the 19th century French painters are (there are other centuries too). Some of Delacrox and Gericault’s works are up here in miniature, as are their later paintings. In fact, my favorite painting in the Louvre is up there, hidden away the corner of Salle 69. It’s an odalisque by Delacroix. If the world were ending, I would rob the Louvre of this one tiny painting. I go up and sit in this quiet, relatively unvisited section of the museum and reflect on the larger themes of life which the 9 to 5 clock keeps at bay.

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“Odalisque” By Eugene Delacroix. In my fantasy, when the world is ending, I will somehow magically get to Paris, get into the Louvre, and in the chaos of an art museum gone mad I surreptitiously take this painting from the wall and smuggle it back home, where I enjoy its company for the rest of my life (which, if it’s the end of the world, might not be that long).

Even if art is not really your thing, I defy you to not be impressed by the sheer scope of the place and the intricacies of the architecture. I must have walked by this courtyard every time I’ve been to the Louvre, and yet this last time was the first time I really looked at it and saw how beautiful it was:

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And these are everywhere!

You’ll get tired walking around, and there are times when the crowds can be a little oppressive. Though they are a little marked up in price, don’t be afraid to take a rest at the food court or the Paul bakery (Paul is a little like a French version of Panera) in the center of the museum. Your ticket will get you back in as many times as you want that day, so there’s no reason to worry.

If you must worry, worry about your goods. It must be said, unfortunately, but watch out for pickpockets. Keep your zippers in front of you, your pockets empty, and check your coat. I once watched a thief filch a few watches from the gift kiosk, as smooth as a revolving door. French pickpockets are masters of their craft, such as it is, but they’ll go for marks who make dumb decisions, like walking around with an open purse, or a wallet in a loose coat pocket. Also, don’t buy tickets from “good Samaritans.” They hang out in the Metro usually, and just happen to have a couple of tickets they don’t intend on using. They’ll either overcharge you, or the tickets won’t work. Common sense – if something sounds too good to be true, it’s probably false.

When you have had your fill of beautiful art work, you can shop, should you wish it. The mall is full of higher end goods, and a McDonalds (if you want to fulfill your lifelong Tarantino dream of ordering a “Royale with Cheese”). Outside the Louvre, on the Rue du Rivoli, there are some nice shops going up and for a while, and if you head toward Concorde on foot you will eventually hit the Champs Elysees (and the Christmas market, should you go in the winter!).

The afternoon is given over to recuperating at the hotel for a couple of hours. This is a great opportunity to run to the Monoprix and buy French groceries – madeleines and pate and cheap wine. Or to the nearby kiosk to grab some inexpensive postcards to send home. Or a chance to write down what you’re doing in a blog, including the backlog for the days you haven’t been writing…ahem.

Dinner:

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T provides the recommendation of her son – Comptoir de la Gastronomie (34 Rue Montmatre). It turns out to be a sundry store and restaurant. Reservations are highly recommended, as dinner service begins at 7 and everyone seems to arrive at once. There is a set menu and a seasonal menu, with rich and rarer fare. I order the doe, but get game fowl since the waitress has not yet mastered the English menu (Luckily, my French is friendly enough to point out that I can tell the difference between fowl and venison). Dad orders veal and escargot.

The wine list is local and delicious. I highly recommend this restaurant if you have the time. It is just off of Saint Eustace Church (Elglise Saint Eustache), and near Les Halles metro. If you opt to take a taxi, make sure you specify 34 RUE Montmatre, not Boulevard Montmatre (the Boulevard intersects the Rue at some point).

Having had a fine night out, and a decent day of walking, I can only hope I don’t wake up again at 3am full of all the worst thoughts in the world. Fingers crossed!

Je suis arrive a Paris!

It’s 8pm. My flight landed at 8am, and I’ve not slept. I’ve been super strong – like Captain America strong, holding back jet lag with my mighty shield of walking and drinking an occasional espresso.

It’s 8pm and I’ve hit my wall.

Easy going during my first day. I had to wait for Dad and T to get to the airport till noon. I coasted through 2 and 3 by walking up towards l’Arc de Triomphe, then down towards George V (A famous, fancy hotel perhaps best known as a setting for the Meg Ryan flick French Kiss). There are tiny things to do, little walks to make, and then it’s 5:30. Time for an early dinner.

It's not tilted - I think I'm tilted. Surely I can hold a camera straight. I can't be that tired that snapping a hip photo while crossing the street would prove difficult...

It’s not tilted – I think I’m tilted. Surely I can hold a camera straight. I can’t be that tired that snapping a hip photo while crossing the street would prove difficult…

From the interior of the George V. The Concierges are nothing like the snooty French stereotype in French Kiss. There isn't even a vindictive bell to ring!

From the interior of the George V. The Concierges are nothing like the snooty French stereotype in French Kiss. There isn’t even a vindictive bell to ring!

Sleep settles into your skeletal system, heavy and enticing. You could fall asleep now and life would be perfection. Instead you eat your club sandwich and fail to make conversation. At one point you ask for a bottle of milk instead milk instead of water, though luckily the waitress is occupied and cannot hear you.

That’s me – I was just that tired. And so it was I fell asleep at 8pm, and woke up at 12am. I passed out, then woke up at 2:30am and stayed awake for roughly three of the longest hours of my life.

I’ve been using this wonderfully distracting app on my phone called “Sleep Cycle.” I bought it as part of a pack that also lets me take my pulse. Sleep Cycle monitors your sleep and gives you a rough idea of how well you are sleeping, based on your movement. I guess the goal is to have a cyclical night’s rest, going into and out of REM sleep in nice, curvy waves.

This is what jet lag sleep looks like:

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Notice that there really aren’t any cycles – I was either wide awake, or dead to the world. I did not dream. Time was an illusion as I slept, and more so when I was awake. I went through all my worldly problems in half an hour.  And then I did it again, because there was nothing else to do and I was clearly not falling asleep.

The worst is knowing that when faced with such a jet lag moment, I can’t get up. I can’t, or my sleep cycle will never even out. I’ll pass out at 3pm and wake up at 11pm or something awful like that. So I lay there, playing out all my worst fears over and over. I imagine I will not be pleasant in the morning…if I lived that long, I thought.

So though the app says I was in bed for twelve (!) hours, I most certainly did not sleep for all of them. My heart rate was good, though – silver lining!

My First Cigar

PREFACE: I have never smoked a thing in my life. D.A.R.E ingrained in me a hatred for drugs of all sorts, and then a health class video about smoking put me off the idea of smoking forever. A man was holding a hospital dish, and with a gloved hand was gently pulling up strings of sticky phlegm while saying ,“This is what lives in your lungs when you smoke.” I almost vomited – it’s an image that has stuck with me for the past fifteen years. 

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Was in Pensacola for the 100th anniversary of Naval Aviation.

It was a memorable connecting flight for a couple of reasons. First, because we were running a few minutes behind schedule, the pilot promised to “fly it like he stole it.” This, I thought, was both reassuring and terrifying, as I already get nervous on planes, and felt no desire to see if he could bend the MD-90 to shave off a few minutes on the already brief flight.

The second reason was more sobering – I’d never seen a military casket in person. The pilot announced that we were returning a soldier, and that there would probably be a slight delay once we landed to accommodate the ceremony and to let the soldier’s family off the plane first. I noted several slumped shoulders at the announcement, which irked me. I will not pass judgment because it’s entirely possible the shoulder slumpers were depressed by the sobering reality of what war costs individual families. My uncharitable side believes they slumped at the idea of something getting in the way of their disembarking.

When we landed, the passengers started taking pictures of the casket as it was brought out, and of the soldiers waiting to carry it to the hearse. I don’t know how I feel about this. Part of me wanted to take pictures as well, since it was a ceremony one does not see everyday. Part of me felt it was disrespectful to take pictures at someone else’s funeral, just because it was fancier.

Do you get to photograph the grief of strangers, because the service rendered was to everyone?

Do you get to photograph the grief of strangers, because the service rendered was to everyone?

What do you think?

The air show was fun. I have been going to airshows all my life – it comes with being raised by a military pilot. I’ve seen more fighter planes and helicopters than most I’d bet, and heard stories to go along with them all.

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There is something breathtaking and arousing about airplanes. Even though I get nervous flying, I could watch fighter pilots twist around the sky all day. I did, in fact, watch fighter pilots twist around the sky all day. The only strange point was a stunt helicopter done up with a face on the front – Autopilot. He was a little dopey, playing with a giant yo-yo and blowing balloon bubbles. There was a glider plane with a jet attached (“So…a plane,” my brother mused), which we were all prepared to tease until it started gracefully looping through the sky to classical music, making calligraphy-like loops behind it.

Music is another thing that makes an air show fun. Military air shows know how to build a soundtrack, and sponsored planes have their own musical scores and movie nods. A clunky WWII cargo plane flew while “Pink Elephants on Parade” blared from the loud speaker. My family debated what our soundtracks would be if we flew. For example, my brother said his hole show would go to the soundtrack of “Footloose,” with “Top Gun” interludes.  I will say the F-35 presentation was disappointing, as they did two fly-bys and left. I’m not a huge F-35 advocate. I think the F-22A is perhaps the sexiest plane ever made.

*drool – if only this beauty had been in Pensacola….*

The air show’s zenith were the Blue Angels. Flying F/A-18s and performing precision maneuvers, there is nothing like them. The Thunderbirds are glorious, but the Angels have a frightening margin of error within which they perform. There is only 18 inches of space between planes in tight formation, which is terrifying when you consider how large the airplane is. I’m not sure everyday people could maintain a tight 18 inch proximity while performing choreography.

The best part was when, after a beautiful diamond roll, the announcer told the audience to keep watching the group. Obediently, the audience obliged, providing the number 5 plane to do a low, fast pass. The gasps were audible, followed by laughter. It’s amazing – all these veterans know the pass is coming, and yet we’re all still startled by it. Wonderful, how people can let joy in.

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—-

After dinner that night, my brother asked me to share a cigar with him. He’s big into cigars now that he’s in the Army. Dad was big into cigars when he was a Marine. Cigars and my family seem to go hand in hand.

I thought about it – I’ve deflected offers throughout my life with enough ease that it never really occurred to me that I didn’t know what I was saying no to. After enough time, saying no is like saying you don’t eat meat, I imagine – it becomes a part of your character. And here was my brother asking, and I decided that yes, I would join him.

So there we were in the unfortunately chilly air of a Florida autumn, sipping whiskey and smoking cigars. I hate to be so pedestrian about the smoking experience, but given all the hype about tobacco I was really hoping for more oomph. I inhaled and exhaled and smoked away, and all I could think was “This is it? You’re just sucking smoke into your lungs?” I did relax more as the night wore on, but I imagine that was the quality whiskey as much as the cigar.

The conversation was good – my brother and I got into a intricate debate about U.S. Foreign Policy. West Point vs. University of Chicago. Military vs. Politics. Realism vs. Pragmatic Optimism – this last one was a fluke. UChicago is home to some of the most renowned Realist scholars – Morgenthau, Mearsheimer, etc. I was supposed to be the realist, except that my Christian Humanist teaching also makes me a moralist, and thus I think more of an optimist. I feel as though I was clear winner of the debate, but my brother put forth some good points too, and I wouldn’t want him to think I didn’t respect his (loser) point of view.

Dad just listened – later, he said he was proud of both of us. I wonder how he had the patience to listen to his eldest and youngest children hash out military doctrine for three hours…perhaps his cigar was stronger.

I woke up with a mouth tasting like an ashbin. This taste stuck around for two days, despite brushing my teeth several times and eating what I thought would be “absorbing “ foods. Still, I’m glad I did it. My first smoke at the age of 31 – never stop growing and experiencing!

(Having just typed that, I would say you can skip smoking. It really is just putting smoke in your mouth and blowing it out again. It does make you feel more relaxed, but really, if you’re not smoking you’re not missing much…You’re welcome, TRUTH movement.)

Update: Mearsheimer went to West Point? No wonder the overlap!

There I was, inverted over Hanoi...

There I was, inverted over Hanoi…