Saturday, April 30, 2011

Things you don't see at home every day: hijiri

Going to Japan, we were expecting sushi, noodles, pickles, miso and all sorts of weird and wonderful flavours, but we hadn't anticipated the variety of sweets and biscuits available. We found that Kyoto has its own sweets which you can't seem to find anywhere else.

Yatsuhashi is one of those. Particularly the unbaked variety, called "hijiri". They are made with rice flour and red bean paste. They are sweet, but not too sweet. We've tried the green tea variety, and also the plain, and a cherry blossom flavour too. And of course the divine "Otabe de Chocolat", which unfortunately was not available at the airport.

We didn't know what they were called until we got home, but it's amazing what a Google search for Kyoto sweets will bring up. And in the shops, a simple pointing and "kore kudasai" was as much Japanese as we needed!

We're currently eating the last few we have - green tea flavour (they only keep for a week), and I know I'll miss them until the next time we're in Kyoto. It's certainly a reason to go back!

More bowls

You'll be sick of me talking about Japan by now, but there is so much to tell you about. It's so different from anywhere else, our senses were taking in so many new sensations. A lot of what we experienced is a big jumble in my head by now, but thankfully, I kept a diary every day, and we have our photos too as an aide-mémoire.

Anyways, here is another little set of bowls that we managed to fit in our suitcases! Aren't they pretty?

PS: I think the yellow one is upside down, but my knowledge of Kanji is not sufficient to say for sure!

San Francisco - Maxime Le Forestier

The Michel Fugain song put me in a nostalgic frame of mind. This is another of my favourites from my childhood.

Things you don't hear at home every day - Michel Fugain - Une belle histoire

Heard Michel Fugain's Une Belle Histoire in Japanese - I had the song in my head for days afterwards (Do click on the link - it's not as good as the original but it will play in your head for a long time, I guarantee it).

What a blast from the past (1972 apparently - I was 8!)

But unfortunately they didn't have it in the karaoke place! They had Westlife and Susan Boyle and France Gall and Soeur Sourire, but no Michel Fugain. Ah well!

Willow on sofa

Friday, April 29, 2011

Things you don't see at home every day: The Golden Temple

I had expected peace, introspection, wilderness, pure beauty. As you can see, it's all there. But the Golden Temple (Kinkaku-ji, in North-West Kyoto) was full of surprises.

First of all, it's on the outskirts of the city: you're on a bus (205 or express 101) through the suburbs, and then, there you are, you're dropped at the entrance to the temple complex. I had expected that we'd be going through gardens or other temples, then as a reward at the end, we would see the pavilion emerging from the mist. But no, it's there, in your face as soon as you've paid your entrance fee.

And we got to share it with hundreds of secondary-school students, most of them with an assignment to talk to a foreigner, any foreigner, willing to engage them. After 2 groups of students (one of the groups with quite good English. The ones in the picture were not so fluent, but very keen to get their picture taken with me all the same), I put on my stern and serious face, and avoided eye contact. As there are few Westerners in Japan these days, I guess quite a few of these kids got home with a fail for that assignment, but, hey, there is only so much I can do! And those who got their interview with us have their work cut out trying to pronounce both our names (There is nothing harder than an English "R", and then add to that the confusion of a French name).

But all of that said, even on a grey day, the Golden Pavilion is gorgeous, with its reflections in the still lake that surrounds it. And somehow, the path full of school kids weaves its way around it in such a way that it looks like there is no-one else there.

Hold on to your ticket, though, because you'll probably want a second look at it when you find yourself outside the main compound and you can't turn back in. If you go back to the entrance with your ticket, they'll happily let you in again.


We bought these lovely little bowls at the Oriental Bazaar. They had so many beautiful bowls, plates, cups that it was a really hard choice.

Food is a big deal in Japan. The Japanese love their food, and the pleasure is as much in the eye as in the mouth. Everything is presented beautifully, in its own individual dish. Unlike here, where the done thing is to have a full matching set, there, every dish is different. A feast for all senses. I'm just sorry that I didn't think of photographing it all - the food was so appetizing that, most of the time, I dove straight in.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Oriental Bazaar, kimonos, obis and other things Japanese

I'm not a big shopper - I tend to buy most of my clothes online, and I just don't have the patience to try things on in shops. But the Oriental Bazaar on Omotesando in Harajuku could make a shopper out of me. I found all the Japanese China (I know, that's a strange term, isn't it, "Japanese China", but that's what they call it, so it must be right) absolutely delightful. I wanted to buy it all. And if I had known that they ship worldwide, I probably would have! Unfortunately, they don't sell online.

And I also found there a gorgeous antique silk obi for 530 yen. That's less than €5! And it's a perfect match for my second-hand silk kimono, bought in Hamamatsu for €25! (If you're ever in Hamamatsu, I highly recommend this shop. The lady was really helpful, fitting the kimono perfectly and looking for suitable accessories. And it's unbelievably good value)!

The Japanese have a reputation for being big shoppers. After spending 2 weeks there, I think I've caught the bug!

Here is the complete look - Not sure when I'll have occasion to wear this kimono in Ireland, but it's really pretty and, being silk, really warm too.

Things you don't see at home every day: Mount Fuji

View of Mount Fuji seen from the plane on our approach to Tokyo. We were lucky to be sitting on the left side of the plane and we got great views as the plane made its approach. We got another couple of glimpses from the train on our way to Kyoto and back from Hamamatsu. As expected, we didn't see it at all from Tokyo, even from the observatory at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings, on the 45th floor (boy am I glad there was no aftershock when we were up there!), as it was too hazy.

Yes, we were amongst the very few Westerners who didn't cancel their holidays to Japan this spring. And I'm so glad we went. We had a ball of a time!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Kick Ass

In a similar style to Scott Pilgrim vs The World, Kick Ass is about a young geek who decides it's time to stand up to the bad boys. It's more real than Scott Pilgrim, in that our hero gets kicked and beaten, and ends up in hospital, with multiple fractures and damaged nerve endings or something. Bottom line, his bones are re-inforced with metal and he feels no pain! Then he encounters a father-daughter duo of real Kick Ass strength - though they are more like vigilantes, and they have an agenda. The daughter, Mindy, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, is the big surprise of the show. So young, so much violence and such bad language! Great fun!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


No wonder all the teenage girls love Twilight - it's all implied sexual attraction and tension. Without any explicit scenes whatsoever, which is probably why it appeals to the parents too! And the main guy is good-looking, if a bit young for my taste. But then again, I'm not the target audience. Basic story: Cool girl moves into new town to live with her dad (her parents are divorced) and falls for mysterious boy in school. Turns out he's a vampire, but a good one. There are bad vampires out there, though, and everybody's life is at risk. But we see no blood at all, and no sex. I might watch the next one in the series, just to know what's going to happen... I think that's the one where they introduce the werewolves.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Daffodils - Take 2, Critical Step Next

OK, I'm now ready to paint the main event. I've done a cut-out and tested my colours. We'll have to see how it works out!

Step 1 - original, ready to be painted.

Step 2 - cut-out daffodil. At that stage, I felt it would need an extra glaze of orange (I'm using Aureolin yellow and Cadminum red by the way).

Step 3 - cut-out on top of original

Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Lost in Translation

We've watched two movies with Scarlett Johansson recently - Lost in Translation, the movie that put her on the map, really, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, one of her more recent endeavours.

To me, Lost in Translation wins hands down - it's such a lovely, understated, story of two people lost, lost in the foreign world that is Japan, and lost at this point in their lives. And the fact that we'll never know what Bill Murray whispers in her ear at the end of the movie is what makes it!

Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Woody Allen's latest movie, is an exploration of sex and relationships. Not his best movie, but not his worst either. It was quite watchable, but it's not one of those movies that's going to stay with me, frankly. All a bit too much, in particular, the character played by Penelope Cruz, Maria Elena, who is way over the top (though, according to Wikipedia, she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for that role. Go figure!). Let me remind you, though, that it is on the set of this movie that Penelope Cruz  and Javier Bardem are said to have got together. You never know what goes on in relationships, but I'd say they probably are a better match than Scarlett Johansson (26 - I can't believe she is so young) and Sean Penn (50). But if they're happy together, I'm happy for them!

Monday, April 04, 2011

Siobhan Ryan - 4 April - light taupe top and black skirt

I'm not sure what the proper name for that colour is. It's not really nude. It's not really taupe either. If you know what colour this is, let me know.

Daffodils - Take 2, Next Step

I painted a big daffodil on another piece of watercolour paper, cut it out, and voilà!
That's more or less what it will look like (minus the fingers) when it's finished. That's if I don't mess it up in the meantime! I wonder should I make the centre a brighter orange, to go with the flowers in the background? It's a bit too pale, as a centre of interest, isn't it? There are so many different types of daffodils, some with a very orange centre, like this photo. But then, it will end up the same colour as the background flowers and that won't work either. I think now is the time to add a layer of orange on my cut out flower to test it out...

Daffodils - Take 2

OK, I was going to paint something else, but my mind kept coming back to that daffodil and its too-dark petal that threw everything out of kilter. So I've started again. It's going well so far. My dark background is almost identical to the original, my out-of-focus flowers look good (though they are a bit too much in a straight line), and I've started the green stalks and I hope that one or two orange glazes will get them to the right colour. And then, I'll have to tackle the main event, eventually! Right now, the flower is covered in low-tack film (just a transparent paper, a bit like the adhesive paper I used to cover my school books with, except it's low tack, so I can lift it when ready without damaging the paper), so I can paint freely around it without having to slow down. That's why it's shiny. In case you were wondering.

Greenery Step 1 - vanadium yellow and ultramarine blue

Greenery Step 2 - more vanadium yellow and ultramarine blue  - amazing what difference one extra glaze can make (though the photo is a bit dark - it's not quite as dramatic in reality)

Nixon in China

I can't believe I haven't got around to talking about Nixon in China yet. It was on the 12th of February, at the Met HD screening at Movies@Dundrum that we saw it. I was just recovering from a cold, and Brendan had just caught it. And his cold got a whole lot worse after that night out.

I like John Adams' music - I have the DVD of El Nino, which is divine. Now, Nixon in China takes a bit more of getting used to - I thought the music good (I love the delicate repetitive notes), but some of the singing was strange, though apparently it was designed to imitate the person's speech characteristics or personality. For instance, Nixon sings in short and fast bursts,  "to reflect the real-life president's personal awkwardness and social unease". I loved "This is Prophetic", Pat Nixon's main aria, but then it may be that I was simply more familiar with the piece, as I have it on a Dawn Upshaw CD (The World So Wide - you can listen to a few seconds of it there).

The production by Peter Sellars was, I thought, a bit old fashioned. OK, there was dancing, and the last scene with the beds on the stage was quite modern, but the other scenes looked to me like something straight out of the 70s. Maybe that's what he intended. But when you see how rich new productions can be (Think El Nino or even Iphigénie en Tauride), I felt it was a bit cold.

I did love the 3 secretaries (I thought they were interpreters) - their singing, facial expressions and hand gestures added an abstract dimension.

As always, the interviews at the intervals are part of what makes the Met HD productions special. One of the interviewees mentioned in passing that the text for the meeting with Mao was taken almost word for word from the Chairman himself, whether he was so wise nobody could figure out what he was saying or just going senile, we'll never know.

For an insider's view, read John Adams' own words about his first opera.

And if you want some good old debate about whether this opera is good or junk, check out the comment thread at the bottom of this blog review! It's great that so many people care!