Saturday, October 20, 2007


Okay. I was ridiculous. It took me a full month to get my first post completed. I have a propensity toward desiring perfection. Whether or not I can eventually achieve it is another story. Can you tell I'm reading The Three Musketeers? I can hear myself trying to sound like Dumas. Vain attempt!

Now that's done, let's move on to the matter at hand. Oh, it's creeping in again! Anyway, we have just returned from our cruise of the French Polynesian islands, namely Tahiti, Huahine, Raiatea, Bora Bora, and Moorea. It was wonderful fun, with great company, good food (too much!) and spectacular scenery. I have never seen water so crystal clear and such a vibrant shade of turquoise. My very favorite activity was the snorkeling. You could see probably a hundred feet in every direction, and the fish were exotic and countless. I loved the peaceful quiet of the underwater, the gliding propulsion of the fins, the silver bubbles silently finding their way to the surface. This was the highlight of the trip.

And now I must confess, there was another anticipated highlight, the outcome of which I did not foresee. Scuba diving. For years I have maintained that I would never scuba dive due to a fear of bursting lungs or dying from 'the bends' (minor issues). But lately, with the newfound freedom of an empty nest and relative youth (no laughing, kids) I have felt more inclined to attempt things I had not considered before (sans skydiving!). So with a good measure of trepidation but a better measure of excitement I signed up for the introductory scuba excursion offered by the cruise.

I and seven or eight other passengers, including my husband, loaded onto a small boat which took us out to the edge of a coral reef. After a not-more-than-5-minute explanation in a heavy French accent -- "You must breeze. Neever hold your brez. Thees weel make you float. Thees weel make you seenk. Thees means okay, thees means not okay" -- we were given our equipment and and shown how to fall over backwards off the edge of the boat with the weight of our tank pulling us into the water. I wasn't sure I could do this, but if I had realized how relatively simple this would be compared to...well, you'll see.

After plunging into the water, our guide took my hand and helped me, at a speed with which I was NOT comfortable, down to the bottom of the ocean. Granted, I was only under maybe 10 feet of water, but that didn't seem to matter to me at the time. I felt an uncontrollable need to rush to the surface, but the image of bursting lungs kept me at the bottom, yet not without flailing arms and unintelligible signs to get me to the top. The guide thought, erroneously, that I would do better if he handed me off to John. Big mistake. As soon as I saw a face I felt would sympathize with my plight, I demanded an escort to the surface. Eventually the dense men decoded my hand signals and got me above water, where I was promptly put on a time-out at the back of the boat and given an adequate period for reflection and, apparently, repentance.

Actually, I was now happy, thinking I could at this point try this at my OWN pace, not rocketing to the bottom in a frenzied attempt to beat his companions... okay, maybe that was not his M.O., but at any rate, taking my time appealed to me. But, alas, this was not to be (Dumas again)! I was instructed to stay at the end of the boat until he could accompany me underwater. Once he has settled his current scuba-ing couple safely underwater, he came over to help me once more, this time with a little more patience, emphasis on "little."

Well, let's make a long story a little less long, shall we? I must admit the impetus for my second attempt at this sport was the bravery of my friend Rachelle. Although she had earlier confessed to sharing the same fears with me, she seemed now to have forgotten the risk of such behavior. Thus, I eventually succeeded with keeping myself under the water, and actually letting go of John's hand at some point. I enjoyed the scenery, if in a very limited fashion. (John's description of me and my sightseeing is not very generous.) And miracle of all miracles, every time I took a breath there was air! Amidst prayers and self-persuasion, I lasted till we were called to come in. I had done it! I had stayed in the water and not given in to my fear. Victory!
I WILL be getting a scuba diving certification in the very near future, and hopefully the length of the course will better fit my comfort level. Then watch out, Bahamas. No stretch of crystal clear teal blue water will be safe from my scuba-diving exploits! (As long as it's no deeper than 20, maybe 30 feet deep...)

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Turn in the road. That is where I seem to be at this point in my life. This last year has seen my oldest son come home from a year of teaching in Japan, only to stay until he found another place to live; my daughter became a wife and is now living in France; and my youngest son got engaged to be married next June, after he finishes college. Wow. Changes, difficult to take at first, are now becoming more acceptable, even exciting.

As hard as it was to send Johnny off to Japan, it afforded John and me the opportunity to travel there for a visit. I would not have chosen Japan as one of my top priority travel destinations, but it was a pleasant surprise. Actually more than pleasant, it was wonderful. Johnny was teaching in Hirado, a small island town at the uttermost west point of Japan, which gave us an idea of rural Japanese life. It was beautiful, and the people were very nice. On top of that, Johnny knew all the best restaurants, and I've never eaten such delicious food! I thought I would be politely avoiding things such as octopus and seaweed, but out of our whole week there I only found one dish that I ate to be less than wonderful. On top of that, I had my first cup of coffee ever there, thanks to their incredible cream.

At The Bay Leaf restaurant, the owner, whom Johnny had befriended, gave us a complimentary serving of coffee. In order not to be rude, I felt obligated to drink my cup. I proceeded to add as much cream and sugar as available in order to be able to stomach it. It was delicious! From then on I didn't drink any more coffee, but I added the cream to every cup of tea I had.

We also visited Kyoto, the cultural (and ancient) capital of Japan, and the incredible bamboo forest. It was timeless, and I felt so small, with the straight shafts of green shooting up to a sky you could barely see for all the leaves at the top which rustled with the wind. The sound made it easy to believe, as I thought the ancients may have, that there were spirits in the forest.

We also saw a golden palace situated in a lovely garden and by a small body of water. It was easy to feel a calm serenity, even though there were seemingly scores of noisy schoolchildren in yellow caps surrounding me. Ahh, the age-old field trip!

From there we made it to Tokyo. What a contrast with our previous stops. Huge buildings everywhere, every square inch put to use. But it was still very beautiful, in a busy sort of way, and cleaner than I expected. Since Johnny had to leave us early, we were left there for a day by ourselves without anyone to translate and specific instructions from him to find a rotating sushi bar. It was like a scavenger hunt and charades rolled into one. But we succeeded. I'm so glad we did. We were greeted by the ubiquitous "irashaimase!" as we entered, and just stood on the fringe observing in order to figure out how it worked. Eventually we sat on stool at a counter which had a sort of a conveyor belt that went around the preparation area in the middle where the chefs stood and worked their magic. As the items passed by in front of us, we chose whatever and however many items we wanted. We were both cautious, but each with different reasons. Knowing how expensive sushi can be in the States, John used restraint. I did as well, but more because I'm not that fond of sushi. After we finished, we followed suit with our fellow patrons by counting our plates and telling the person at the cash register how many we had and they charged us by plate. The total? A whopping $12! John wanted to go back and eat more! We then made our way back to our hotel room, the doorway to which hit John at about the middle of his forehead. We watched Japanese TV one last night, which was hard to give up. It's hilarious! Just imagine a chimpanzee hosting Who Wants to be a Millionaire. As a matter of fact, almost every program has a chimpanzee in it. Strange but very funny...
Our flight departed on a Saturday. We headed for the train station to catch a train to the airport, and I was surprised to see the number of people walking around downtown (our downtown LA is pretty quiet on the weekends) and the station itself was packed. Now I understand what they mean when they say that Tokyo is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. There were people everywhere. We arrived at the airport early, having given ourselves plenty of time for mistakes. We spent the time looking around and then having our last Japanese meal. It was actually the least memorable of the trip, but I do remember the drink I ordered. It was called a cream soda, but we had learned from Johnny earlier that it's nothing like our cream soda. Which is not a bad thing when it tastes like this did. Although it was an eerie bright green, it tasted like a Big Red Float. Not what you'd expect. What a fitting ending for a visit to a country we didn't expect to like that much but ended up being pleasantly surprised at every turn. It now tops some of our fondest vacation memories.
What a nice turn in the road.
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