In twenty-seventeen, I: Taught English for one semester at a university in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. Traipsed around Hungary, Austria and Czech Republic with my ever-patient husband. Took a solo road trip to Cape May, New Jersey. Listened to country music in Nashville, Tennessee. Read 26 books out of my goal of 40, the best being Burial Rites, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The House at the Edge of Night, Truth & Beauty & The Ginger Tree. Lost 10 pounds while in Japan, and gained them right back when I returned to the U.S. Attended several online seminars about visioning and business planning and mulled over my idea for a travel/writing-related business. Worked in earnest on my memoir.
From January to March, I: Visited Harper’s Ferry and learned about John Brown. Dove into teaching English at Virginia International University for a seven-week session. Enjoyed a long-overdue dinner with classmates from my Master’s program at George Mason University. Enjoyed La La Land and Hidden Figures. Took a course on Creating Complex Characters at the Writer’s Center. Visited my children in Richmond, stopping at Lewis Ginter for a brief glimpse of spring before taking off to teach English to second-year university students in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. Moved into a rabbit-hut apartment near Fuchinobe Station.
Click on any of the pictures below for a full-sized slide show.
In April, I: Was carried by a tidal wave of crowds through Ueno Park during hanami, the “watching blossoms” season. Encountered a geisha while listening to “Kabuto Music and Manners” at the Toki-no-kane bell. Was gently nudged not to cross my legs at a Buddhist temple while sitting under pink sakura. Watched Japanese university students playing a boisterous oversized card game. Wandered through raindrop-covered blossoms at Shinjuku Gyeon. Broke an umbrella in the wind while walking around Shinjuku’s skyscrapers. Presented a “shock lecture” about genetics and Mendel’s pea plants to jolt my Japanese students out of complacency in their Applied Skills course. Visited a yakitori grill surrounded by Hello Kitty paraphernalia and unopened packages of vintage stamped postcards and miniature toys. Learned to take my shoes off and put a hood over my head before trying on clothes in Japanese dressing rooms. Visited the colorful and lively Kantei-byo in Chinatown during a 10-mile walk through Yokohama. Admired peonies at the Monument to U.S. – Japanese Friendship and marveled at Yokohama’s skyline with its iconic Ferris wheel, sail-shaped Yokohama Grand Intercontinental, and Landmark Tower. Wandered among peonies shaded by parasols at Genji-ike in Kamakura. Watched faithful Japanese worshipers cleanse themselves, bow, clap their hands, ring bells, make offerings and pray at Kamakura’s temples and shrines. Admired age-old royal buildings at the Imperial Palace Outer Gardens and enjoyed lunch and wine at the Hibiya Beer Garden. Discovered temizuya, ema, teahouses, Japanese gardens, dragon-painted ceilings, carp flags, Chinese gates, and tales of shoguns while taking endless rambles from my trusty book: Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City. (catbird in japan)
In May, I: Fell in love with artistic displays of flowers, Japanese landscapes and calligraphy on Meiji Shrine’s sake barrels during Japan’s Golden Week. Slid like a fly in slow-moving honey with crowds down Takeshita-dori, a fashion haven for teenage girls. Ate vegetarian and fish tacos at Guzman y Gomez in Harajuku, downtown Tokyo. Surreptitiously snapped photos of a young Japanese couple in Yokohama’s Sankei-en while they posed for their photographer. Was charmed by iconic umbrellas on a bridge leading to Nakano-shimo Island. Wandered around sixteen historic buildings from central Japan at Sankei-en, or Three Glens Garden. Enjoyed quilts with kimono, cranes, and cascading blossoms at Funiko Endo’s quilt exhibit at Tomyo-ji Main Hall. Fondly remembered China as I visited Shanghai-Yokohama Friendship Garden. Climbed Mt. Takao with hordes of people during Golden week, and soaked in an outdoor onsen afterward. Followed the cues of the Japanese and visited gardens during special bloom times – a wisteria festival at Kameido Tenjin and rabbit-ear irises at the Nezu Museum. Wandered around the Imperial Palace East Garden on a gloomy day. Smelled fragrant roses, visited a folk house museum, & pondered over strange sculptures in Kawasaki on a steamy day. Visited Odawara Castle, followed by a weekend in Hakone, where I traipsed through an outdoor sculpture garden, a moss garden, quirky Rakan statues, a botanical garden, and a torii gate in Ashi Lake.
In June, I: Enjoyed numerous happy hours outside the Family Mart near campus with my friends Graham and Paul. Spent a weekend exploring the Mt. Fuji area near Kawaguchiko. Climbed the rock-island of Enoshima and then went to Hasedera in search of elusive hydrangeas. Missed the Hydrangea Walk at Hasedera twice. Mingled among Japanese folks wearing yukata at Tokyo’s oldest shrine, Senso-ji. Got hooked on The Good Wife on Netflix. Joined hordes of people at Meigetsu-in during the peak of hydrangeas. Hiked the 3km Daibutsu Course from Kita-Kamakura to the Great Buddha. Finally encountered the Great Buddha of Kamakura. Explored the shopping area, temples and cemetery of Yanaka. Ate eggplant and barracuda as a regular customer at Kiyariya, a Japanese fish restaurant run by Kenji, an excellent chef. Listened to Paul McCartney and John Lennon sing “Imagine” and “Listen to What the Man Said” at Curry Naan while eating vegetable curry & huge pan-shaped naan.
In July, I: Wandered through the delightful streets of Kagurazaka. Had my senses assaulted at Akihabara Electric Town in Tokyo. Finally managed to do the famous Hydrangea Walk at Hasedera on the third try. Sweltered as I slogged through Kawagoe, an Edo-era town. Enjoyed vegetable curry and beer in the cool dark atmosphere of Curry Naan while listening to “Eleanor Rigby,” “I am the Walrus,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and “Lucy in the Sky with the Diamonds.” Got eaten alive by mosquitoes at the gardens of Rikugi-en and Koishikawa Korakuen, which are probably beautiful in spring and fall but were mediocre in the heat of summer. Explored the charming Tokyo neighborhoods of Shimo-kitazawa & Harmonica Yokocyo. Enjoyed Hiroshi Yoshida’s fabulous paintings at the Seji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponka Museum of Art and explored Omoide Yokocho and Kabukichō in Shinjuku with my Instagram friend Yukie. Enjoyed my first Okonomiyaki with Yukie and then was nearly flattened by a lion on a bicycle at Golden Gai. Escaped the heat by going to a contemporary Southeast Asian art exhibit at the Mori Art Museum, and then stood atop the building for encompassing views of Tokyo. Enjoyed beer and fish & chips with my friend Graham at the Aldgate British Pub in Shibuya. Fell in love with the Japanese postal system, which makes appointments to deliver or pick up packages. Felt dwarfed by tall bamboo at Hokokuji (the Bamboo Temple) in Kamakura after visiting the huge Guanyin Bodhisattva at Ofuna. Hiked around Yamate Bluff in Yokohama. Celebrated with my students during end-of-semester parties. Got soaked in continuous rainfall during a long weekend in Nikko. Enjoyed a monk’s diet of yuba prepared in multiple ways. Took a muddy rainy day walk through Aihara with Graham. Laughed and made toasts over wine and tapas at Vinul’s, near Ueno, with Graham and Paul after our end-of-year meetings. Encountered abundant lotus flowers at Shinobazu Pond. Enjoyed a celebratory dinner with Tobi and Reiko at Dai Trattoria. Packed my suitcases and sent them to the airport to be held for a week while I traveled around Japan.
In August, I: Handed over my blue bicycle to Graham and my apartment to Westgate and took my first Shinkansen to Hiroshima. Watched an aerial view simulation of the A-bomb that exploded over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Cried when I saw the before and after pictures of Hiroshima. Marveled at thousands of folded paper cranes, symbols of world peace, at the Children’s Peace Monument. Saw the A-bomb dome, surprisingly left somewhat intact after the bomb exploded overhead, although everyone inside was killed. Sweltered while walking around Miyajima and wading around the “floating” O-torii Gate at Itsukushima Shrine. Ate grilled oysters in Miyajima and Hiroshima’s version of okonomiyaki, washed down with a cold beer. Stood in awe of the Great Buddha of Nara at Todai-ji Temple. Befriended Nara’s cheeky deer. Ate kaki-no-ha, individual pieces of sushi wrapped in persimmon leaf, in Nara. Stood under lanterns on the verandah at Nigatsu-do and admired the city of Nara from above. Ate a vegetarian meal at a shukubo (temple lodging) in Koyasan. Prayed with monks at a beautiful pre-dawn Buddhist ceremony at Kongo Sanmaiin. Got a big hug from a friendly monk at a pagoda in Koyasan after pulling on a chain of beads where I got the fortune: “Great blessing.” Walked among 200,000 tombs for people of all classes in the shade of soaring cedars at Okunoin. Admired the design and sheer number of rocks in the rock garden at Kongobuji. Left in a rush from the second temple lodging, Kumagai-ji, in Koyasan, when we were alerted while eating our vegetarian dinner that a typhoon was coming and the cable car might not be running the next day to take us down the mountain. Stayed in a ryokan across from the delightful Naritasan Shinshoji Temple in Narita. Returned home to find a despicable Nazi Supremacist gathering in my home state, in Charlottesville, VA, where a girl was killed, and then had to listen to our “president” fanning the flames of hatred and arguing that there is moral equivalency between neo-Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists and the “alt-left,” a made-up term lumping counter-protestors and Antifa, or anti-fascists, into one big boat. Found my son Adam had boomeranged back home after his year in Hawaii. Took 4-hour naps each day as I tried to reverse my internal clock after 4+ months in Japan. Enjoyed The Glass Castle, The Big Sick, and Wind River after four months of not watching any movies at the cinema in Japan.
In September, I: Walked all around the Cleveland Park neighborhood in Washington. Visited the Pentagon Memorial for the first time ever in remembrance of September 11, 2001. Enjoyed Ethiopian injera and lentils in Herndon. Finally got my two boxes from Japan after 60 days. Flew Lufthansa in miserably uncomfortable economy class aisle seats for 7:55 hours through a six-hour time zone change and across the north Atlantic to Frankfurt, then on to Budapest. Got hooked on Big Little Lies while on the flight. Stayed in an Airbnb apartment on Kazinczy utca, the ruin bar street. Climbed 146 steps up the dome of St. Stephen’s Basilica for 360-degree views of Budapest. Watched men playing chess in the Szechenyi Baths as we soaked in water not quite warm enough for the cold temperatures outside. Took a hydrofoil up the Danube to Ezstergom and climbed up a narrow spiral staircase for views of the Danube and the town. Climbed an endless mountain to Visegrad Citadel. Admired beautiful paintings on the interior and Zsolnay ceramic tiles on the roof of Matthias Church. Scampered all around Fishermen’s Bastion. Visited the Great Synagogue and the Great Market Hall, and came away with a few goodies. Listened to a mini-opera at the Hungarian State Opera House. Had beers in the crazy ruin bar, Szimpla Kert. Climbed the Firewatch Tower and wandered among Roman ruins in Sopron, Hungary and enjoyed a fabulous meal (chicken paprika with homemade gnocchi!) with five wine tastings at the husband-and-wife run Vadászkürt Panzió és Étterem. Took the Ringstrasse Tram tour in Vienna, Austria. Fell in love with the zig-zag roof tiles and the Gothic south tower of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. Trekked out to see Hundertwasserhaus, an apartment building designed to celebrate “forms of decay” in architecture. Felt overwhelmed by the oppulent Imperial Porcelain and Silver Collection at the Hofburg Palace. Sampled peppers stuffed with cheese at the Naschmarkt. Wandered all around the elegant Belvedere Palace. Sampled a huge variety of wines on a bicycle tour of wineries in the Wachau Valley (in search of a thousand cafes).
In October, I: Mingled with thousands of Chinese tourists in Český Krumlov, Czech Republic. Climbed the Český Krumlov Tower for views of the charming town and countryside. Walked all over the quaint town and climbed a small mountain for not much of a view. Studied colorful graffiti on the Lennon Wall in Prague. Climbed the bell tower of the Church of St. Nicholas and Petrin Tower, where we enjoyed marvelous views of Prague. Admired the beautiful ceilings of the Strahov Monastery Library. Met St. Bearded Woman, the patron saint of unhappy marriages, at the Loreta. Admired a Mucha stained glass window at St. Vitus Cathedral. Ate an outrageously expensive meal at the Golden Well in Prague (my sea bass was sadly mediocre), with fabulous views over the city and the Vltava River. Was tempted to tango with the Dancing House, dubbed the “Fred and Ginger Building.” Passed the time with Prague’s famous Astronomical Clock. Found Gothic and Czech Art Nouveau architecture at Powder Tower and the Municipal House. Took a boat ride under the Charles Bridge on the Vltava River. Met my son’s girlfriend, Maddy, who he brought back with him from Australia. Celebrated my 62nd birthday for a week in late October. Enjoyed the play Native Gardens at Arena Stage, about our current antagonistic political environment. Met my little nephew, Elliott, and my sister in Baltimore. Encountered moss, ferns and bits of yellow on the Hawksbill Summit Hike in the Shenandoah Mountains.
In November & December, I: Voted for “alterations” in our current government. Visited my father in Yorktown and my daughter in Richmond. Celebrated our anniversary (29 years minus a handful of gap years) at Maple Avenue Restaurant. Met my friend from California, Leah, for bottomless mimosas at Pearl Dive Oyster Bar. Enjoyed the musical, The Pajama Game, at Arena Stage. Enjoyed Lucky, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Victoria & Abdul, and Lady Bird in the cinema. Stressed out over my son’s problems, and began the process of learning to let go through Al-Anon Family Groups. Escaped for some alone time on a road trip to Cape May, New Jersey, where an icy wind assaulted the windows of The Pink Cottage, howling and groaning all day and night.
After Christmas, from December 27-31, Mike and I took a road trip to Nashville, Tennessee. It took about 10 hours to drive there, so two days were spent on the road and 3 days in Nashville.
Overall, we survived our first year of the Trump Presidency, and I had a great time on all my adventures. My biggest hope for 2018 is that my children will finally grow up and take responsibility for their lives.
Happy New Year, and may all your wishes be fulfilled in 2018! 🙂