This is it. I don’t want to wait any more. This is the year I learn to fly.

I guess I’ve done some forms of flying before. I was a student of flying trapeze for eight years, so I was actually called a “flyer”. This kind of flying has all the things one would want associated with that verb: thrills, excitement, moments of weightlessness, and a manageable sense of danger.

The other kind flying I’ve had is in lucid dreams, which I’ve written about here on The Nerge. Those experiences have run the gamut from mundane to breathtaking. Even in the mundane scenarios, it’ll quite amazing to be weightless and moving through space without any danger.

The flying I’m talking about here is flying an airplane. I’ve been wanting to taking flying lessons for about 15 years. The cost and the lack of time have been obstacles, either or both, at any given moment. I’ve decided that I’m just going to have to make time and find the money to do it. I imagine if I take just one lesson a month I can squeeze it in. That may mean it takes me ten years to get my license, but what do I care? In the meantime I’ll be flying a plane once a month, which is infinitely more than now when I fly a plane 0% of the time.

K’s grandmother flew her own plane for many years. She was a ballet instructor and would fly to remote places in the South to give lessons. She talked about it with me and how much she loved flying. She is certainly an inspiration for me.

In preparation for this, I have joined AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association), who sends me newsletters full of jargon I can barely comprehend. Being a nerd, this excites me quite a bit. Flying is fucking complicated, it’s going to be mentally challenging — bring it on!

I heard about AOPA through a cousin of mine whom I spoke to at the family event I just posted about. He flew to the wedding in his own plane, accompanied by his wife, sister, and brother-in-law. He and his sister learned to fly when they were young, but apparently only he has kept up with it. I remember as a teenager hearing that they had their own planes. How glamorous that seemed! Of course, they were much wealthier than us so they could have these things. In my young mind, I pictured airplanes parked in their driveway like cars.

I have barely ever spoken to this cousin, but I approached him and told him that I was interested in becoming a pilot. He handed me his phone and told me to type in my email address and that he’d send me information. He gave me a few tips right there, and I thought, well this is fine but I don’t think he’ll actually remember to email me.

He emailed me the next day with the names of potential instructors, airfields, and organizations I should look into. Then he emailed me again with more information. My opinion of this cousin went WAY up. People who keep their word count a lot in my world.

So, once my schedule isn’t so full of work, I’m going to follow up on this information and get going on lessons. In the meantime, I’ll read my newsletters about virga and crosswinds and dream of being in the cockpit.

I’m in New York for my cousin’s wedding. I was nervous about coming to a family event, which has be stressful and trying in the past. I’ve noticed that has been changing in the last few years. The biggest difference is now the next generation are young adults. They’ve grown up with me and accept me as I am in a way my generation, and more so the older generation cannot, because of their ideas of who I should be. This is incredibly liberating.

It turns out my Great Aunt S. is buried not from from the hotel I’m staying in. I was very close to her. I used to always hang out with her at these family events, so since she’s gone, they’ve were less fun for several years. My cousin D. drove me to the cemetery to see her, which was closed for shabbat. We went in anyway. It was strange to see her grave, and I didn’t expect to, but I cried. Also near her is buried my Uncle Abey who died when I was 14. He was a lot of fun, I remember him very well, and I had no idea it was the same cemetery and I had been there before. All of this was not fun but was that kind of thing that touches a part of me inside, a part that says, this is real, this is important.

Soon after that my brother & family showed up with my Mom and Stepdad. Of course, I’m always happy to be with my awesome Stepdad but the treat was my nieces. They are really different now, as young adults and not kids or teens, and really want to hang out with me. This wasn’t always true, and certainly wasn’t when they were awkward middle school kids. They are 18 and 22 and both gorgeous too. I had a great conversation with E. (22) who is thinking of being a field scientist. She just spent some time in the last few weeks in North Carolina trapping and taking data on alligators.

We all went out for a family dinner, the first cousins and offspring, and afterwards I joined my stepdad for a Manhattan at the hotel. He told bad jokes and tales of his various adventures. My Mom was actually convinced to have a drink and then she was kind of fun. I wish she’d drink more. A lot more.

Then my nieces and I went to the pool. It was about 9:30 at night. Some guys were gawking at them through the glass door. C.’s suit is very skimpy and she is very curvaceous, so there was a lot to see. Suddenly E. went to the door, opened it and said, “DO YOU WANT TO COME IN?”. Man, did that scare them off. I was impressed with her cleverness.

So, there’s a new dimension to the family thing which is, as long as my nieces are around, it’s a pretty good time.

People often say things at these events about “The Family” and “How we are” and sometimes “How us Jews are” and I think, you people don’t know. I am nothing like you. I can barely relate to you. I relate the best to my non-Jewish nieces and my Irish stepdad. How is that, when I am so Jewish? When Jewishness is so important to me?

I’ve been back in the U.S. long enough to readjust to my home environment. I’ve gotten used to some of the niceties of home. The spaciousness of things is a big one. The fact that I live on a city, but still on a wide tree-lined street, is very pleasant and something that doesn’t exist in Japan.

The human interactions in the U.S., especially with strangers, still is a source of stress because it’s so unpredictable. People can be friendly, hostile, funny, bitter — you have no idea what you’ll get. I notice that I, and quite a few people I know, dispel the uncertainty with humor. But even though everyone is not going to be kind a pleasant as in Japan, sometimes you have an interaction that is so creative and funny that it’s notable and memorable. This fits into the concept that in a country where everything is pleasant and calm, creativity takes a hit.

I have noticed that the calmness I felt in Japan is still with me. All that sitting in temples and visiting fox shrines has had a lingering effect. I feel less agitated in situations that usually send me through the roof. When I start to become tense, I tell myself it’s no big deal, take a deep breath, and think of Nishi Hongaji or Fushimi-inari. I seem to be able to release the tension in my body much more easily than I could before Japan. I hope this ability will remain withe me.

I don’t know how I forgot these in my previous lists of Things I’ll Miss About Japan, since they were very important to me when I was there, but here they are:

NO GARBAGE. It was just amazing to not see garbage. There were no garbage cans either, or practically none. Basically, everyone was responsible for their garbage. You carried it with you until you were home or work or somewhere that had a garbage can. The Shinkansen platforms had garbage cans, which makes sense, since people could be on those trains all day and have a lot of plastic bento boxes and such. There were none in the spotlessly clean public bathroom, because there were no paper towels. You brought your own hand towel where ever you went.

We came home to find someone had dumped a broken old desk and sundry other crap in front of our house. There is not the Japanese way. No one would dump a pile of garbage in public, especially not on someone else’s property. It sucked to come home to.

The other things I miss: cutefied public service announcement. All public service announcement had cute drawings. ALL OF THEM. It seemed weird at first, but then I got used to them, and then I kind of liked them. At the last day of my trip, I saw a drawing of a crying garbage can (where was the real one? I don’t even know). It was crying because the garbage was overflowing and falling on the ground. This made the garbage can so sad. Poor garbage can! Then I saw one of a crying handbag. It looked wistfully at its departing owner, who had left it behind in the bicycle basket (yes, people actually do that. And, people do not lock their bikes, either). A black-gloved thief was just about to snatch it, and it would never see it’s owner again. Poor handbag!

I also saying angry mountains, crying deer (being chased by people with sticks), helpful chipmunks with fire extinguishers, the aforementioned smiling body organs, and this: THE ULTIMATE JAPANESE PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT:

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Sadly, it’s our last day here. We aren’t doing much, just trying to take it easy and rest up for our trip home.

It’s another beautiful, warm, Bay-Area-like day, so I put on the thigh-high socks I bought, only to discover that on me they are knee-highs. It’s true, most Japanese women are shorter than me, but so are most American women. I guess I’m just especially long-legged, at least from the ankle to the knee, compared to the Japanese. In any case, it’s a thigh-high fail but I’m wearing them anyway.

So, here are some of the things I’ll miss about Japan.

I’ll miss the gentleness of the public venue. I have no idea what goes on behind closed doors here, but when you are in public, politeness and kindness is the rule, and the Japanese tend to abide by rules more than Americans do. I only heard a person shout in anger once the entire time I was here, a drunk man on a bike who felt another bicycle had gotten too close to him. At home, I hear angry shouting all day long. Some people are shouting at the voices in their head. Some of them are shouting at others. On the bus, people are shouting into their phones. People are loud in America.

Also: everyone treating me kindly, everyone respecting each other’s private space, everyone being quiet on the bus and the train — I’ll really miss these things. I felt calm and at ease when I was in public, instead of the guarded, anxious, annoyed triad I’m usually wallowing in.

I only saw two homeless people, and one small encampment near the river during this trip. Is it because the homeless are more hidden, or is it that they barely exist, or a combination of the two?

If we saw a piece of garbage on the ground, or graffiti, we pointed at it in astonishment. The apparent care of the people and public space — I’ll miss that.

It may seem silly, but I’ll miss the fact that I almost never had to sit on a cold toilet sit for three weeks. I got used to expecting a warm seat. And using the Japanese (in ground) toilet really wasn’t bad at all. I got used to it, and it made sense after a while.

My awesome shower in my ryokan, with three settings: “rain”, massage shower head, and jets.

I’ll miss the group of friendly guys who were the staff of Capsule Ryokan.

The variety of colors that men wore, when not in their business suits. And the colorful bicycles, pink and yellow and purple. To see men in business suits on these bicycles seemed so not American.

The way that nature is left alone up in the hills and mountains even though space is at a premium.

The Shinkasen, which is as close to perfect as transportation can get.

The little chimes that announce when a train or bus is coming, or that a stop is coming when you are on board.

Seeing little children out on their own in the city. Also apparently once children are in middle school, they seem to be on their own which is kind of amazing. They travel in groups, unchaperoned. The independence given to children was amazing to witness.

Wild monkeys and deer that you can feed.

Okonomaki.

Nishi hongaji temple across the street.

Sakura season. As we are leaving, the dogwoods are in bloom and they are very pretty. But there really isn’t anything like cherry blossoms in Japan.

Fushimi-inari.

And mostly, fox shrines.

This is my last transmission from Japan. California, here I come.

I noticed on my “trekking” map that there was an image of a gorge to the west of Kyoto that looked pretty good, so I decided that I wanted to go see it. At first K squared were not interested, especially when I mentioned the bus to the beginning of the hike would take 50 minutes. Then I noticed there was a different, less rigorous route that we could possible reach by train, and they decided they wanted to join me.

We took the train to Hozukyo, and to our delight, the train station is actually on a bridge over the gorge. It just dumps you out right there, in the middle of this beautiful natural scenery. It was pretty amazing, especially since it was just one stop past Arashiyama.

We exited the station and the first thing K noticed was that there were these incredibly GIANT BEES. K has a phobia of bees, which I understand, since I have a phobia of spiders. These bees were by far the largest I’d ever seen. They were about the length of a thumb, from the tip down to the first knuckle, and just as fat. They also seemed to like to hover right in front of your face, as if they’re having a staring contest with you. So even if you weren’t afraid of bees, they were a little freaky.

We started headed towards the trail and the bees were still around us. K decided he couldn’t go on the hike. I thought the bees would diminish as we got away from the station and into the woods, but he was having none of it. I can’t blame him; if I tried to go on a hike and there were many tarantulas, I’d have to give up too.

W and I continued on. It was uphill for a long time. The river was incredibly clean. You could see right down to the bottom, even from where we were, a good 100 feet up. At some point we were more like 40 feet up, and I could see that the river had flooded considerably sometime in the not-to-distant past, as there was debris in the the lower parts of the trees up to about 20 feet above the current surface of the water. Kyoto has a bit of a monsoon season in June so I wonder if that debris was from last June.

We passed a group of hikers, all retirees. It was, after all, a weekday. The hill was steep but they were undeterred.

The entire “Kyoto Trail” in this section ias a road. The area was very pristine, but it was strange to be hiking on a narrow, one lane road with occasional traffic. Fortunately, the vehicles in Japan – even the trucks – are small and they were able to breeze by with no trouble.

It was a beautiful, sunny, warm spring day. The weather was incredibly like the Bay Area, the first day that felt like that. Even the color of the sky almost resembled the color of the sky in Oakland but… not quite as vibrant.

Before too long we came to the top of the hill and headed down through a cedar forest, which was a good change of pace as we were getting pretty warm.

The terrain eventually flattened out and then the nature became interspersed with an occasional restaurant or shrine, and then more and more until we were in an historic neighborhood. Then there were many temples, which I wasn’t too interested in, but W wanted to go to Gioji so we looked for that one. On the way we came across yet another fox (inari) shrine, this one looking spooky and abandoned. There was even a tiny door behind the shrine to the right that was propped open and let to some sort of cellar. It was pitch black in there, and neither W or I wanted to go in. I just figured I wasn’t supposed to.

The Gioji Temple was very small, but interesting. The garden, instead of a cultivating flowers, cultivated moss. They had a display showing the 14 kinds of moss in the garden, and the entire grounds were covered with this lovely carpet shaded by maple trees. Apparently in the fall when the leaves are red it’s quite a sight, but it was striking when we saw it as well. This temple was at one point a women’s convent, so were were some small statues of women inside.

After that we made our way back to the train station, and home — at least our for just another day or so.

I didn’t know this before I came to Japan, but there’s wild monkey just outside Kyoto in Arashiyama. I’ve seen many images of the red-faced macaques in Hokkaido, sitting in hot springs, but I didn’t know these same macaques live throughout Japan, and that they are the only kind of monkey in the country. We decided to hike up to “Monkey Park” and see for ourselves.

The last time we were in Arashiyama was at the beginning of our trip, and we went to the Tenruji temple, which had the best gardens we have seen. We definitely had caught it at the right time. This time we walked past all that, over the Togetsukyo Bridge and up to the monkeys. Along the way there are many, many warnings not to look the monkey in the eye, or offer food, or take pictures of them along the way. I guess any of these things can cause them to go ape shit. Ha ha! Couldn’t resist that one. They also mentioned not throwing stones, which I guess some morons might be tempted to do.

About half way up the hill, Kevin pointed above my head, and there was a monkey just sitting in the tree. I thought, that is not real. That’s a monkey, just hanging out. I haven’t seen a monkey in a bout 15 years, at which time I was working at a humane society. There was a monkey that had been confiscated as an illegal pet and was being held while his fate was decided. I can’t remember whether he ended up at a zoo or sanctuary. I do remember my coworkers telling me to go see the monkey, so I did. I stood in front of his cage. He looked at me and I looked at him and I thought, that really just looks like a little furry human. I mean, it was freaky how similar we looked, especially our eyes.

Seeing this wild monkey was the felt the same in that respect, but even more amazing because this one was wild and free.

Once we got to the top, there were macaques everywhere. The ones that hang out in that area are very tame and you can look at them and photograph them but not touch or approach them. There was one just dozing off, his eyes opening more and more slowly as he drifted off into a slumber. He looked just like an old man.

To feed the monkeys, you had to go inside a cage and purchase food for them at a reasonable price. Yes, the humans were in the cage, as it should be. They had yams, apples, and peanuts for sale, and we bought all three. Then we stood next to the wire, one by one, and held out the treats in our palm while the monkeys snatched them up. While one of us fed the monkeys, the other two were taking hella photographs. I had that freaky feeling again when I saw one of their hands on mine, that it was JUST LIKE MINE except smaller and covered in fur.

We saw monkey grooming each other, monkeys fighting with each other, monkeys being whiny, monkeys just taking it easy. I don’t know how anyone could look at all these monkeys acting just like people and not have a seed of doubt planted in their mind about supposed human superiority. They really didn’t seem very different. Now you many say, oh but those macaques don’t have smartphones or space shuttles, but on the other hand they are not destroying the planet, are they? So how smart are we, really? Smart enough to cause our own demise and many other species.

Yes, well, ahem. Happy Belated Earth Day.

After we had our fill of monkeying around (ergh! Actually, K said that when we departed from the monkeys), we descended the hill and took a walk along the river. There were boats for rent and people were fumbling about in rowboats or being taken for a ride on a type of gondola. It was very relaxing and scenic. We passed a man, a foreigner, who said he had just moved there from Okinawa and was loving it.

In the evening we finally found the sushi place we’d been trying to find for about a week and a half. It was a sushi boat place but unlike in the U.S. the sushi was good. They had types of vegetarian sushi I hadn’t had before, including pickled eggplant, tofu skin, and field mustard. The chef nearest me saw me greedily eyeing the field mustard, and when I ate some he asked me what I thought of it. I said, “Oishii!” (delicious) and he muttered “oishii” to himself and smiled. I guess he didn’t expect me to say it in Japanese. The smile was disarming, since the sushi chefs usually look so focused and serious.

Speaking of disarming, I’d like to finish with a word about the rickshaw rickshaw drivers. I don’t know if any women do this work, I haven’t seen any yet. So. Those guys are often really good looking. They stand around on corners trying to get you to take a ride, tanned and wearing a traditional outfits. But some of them wear these little shorts so you can see their muscular legs. I’ve mastered the surreptitious glance at those legs. Let me tell you, those thighs are something else. Thank you, rickshaw drivers of Japan who wear the little shorts, for enhancing my vacation.

Tokyo

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Our time in Tokyo was very Blade Runner: dark, drizzly, futuristic.

We were met a Tokyo Station by Michiko, my Stepdad’s brother’s common-law wife. She asked us to meet her at the Silver Bell, a popular meeting spot. We were having a hard time finding it, so Kevin asked a stranger where it was. The stranger had us follow him for about ten minutes through the giant labyrinth, all the while holding two fingers to his left temple to help him think. He had to ask directions twice. Just another example of how incredibly helpful people are here.

Michiko is in her 70s, but I had a hard time keeping up with her as she raced off to take us to the Imperial Palace, which is very close to the station. You can’t actually go into the palace, and mostly people run or walk around the perimeter for exercise. Michiko didn’t even think we could go inside the walls at all, but it turns out there are gardens inside you can visit for free. Michiko was surprised and delighted to discover this, so it was a treat for all of us.

Next we went on a search for a lunch place, and really lucked out. We discovered a farm-to-table restaurant with a buffet. They had photographs of the farmers on the wall, the food was delicious, it was all you can eat, and it was only $15 per person. I can’t imagine anything comparable existing in the U.S.

Next she escorted us through a variety of train changes to the neighborhood of our ryokan. We were surprised to see the area was a little run down looking. Michiko explained that it used to be a very poor area, but had been improving since they built the Sky Tree nearby. She noted that many small hotels had popped up.

It took a while to find our ryokan, and it was almost dark when we got there. It was *very* dark inside the ryokan. The entire interior was painted charcoal grey, and there was only spare recessed lighting throughout. When the staff person showed us our room, it just had one small lamp. We gratefully accepted her offer of another. I guess they don’t think anyone is going to read in their room.

So, we sat on floor of our dark little room with a window that faced a dark concrete wall streaked with rain, and I thought, is this some dystopic future?

We went out for dinner and unfortunately the map the ryokan had given us was useless, so we ended up at the crappy udon place around the corner. Now, I can’t eat any more udon. I really can’t. So I ordered the other thing on the menu, which was boiled rice with vegetables. And if that sounds unappetizing to you, that’s because it is. It mostly just tasted like salt.

When I got up in the morning, I was surprised that it was still hecka dark in the hallway. I realized that dark was really the design aesthetic; you were supposed to feel like you were in a perpetual night. You know, like the North Pole in winter. Which I suppose might appeal to someone, but it isn’t me.

We headed off to Asakusa to see the oldest temple in Tokyo, Senso-ji. After all the amazing temples in Kyoto, it really didn’t seem impressive. There was quite a gauntlet of chintzy souvenir shops, and walking through them in the rain really felt like being in the film Blade Runner. I half expected someone to be selling android snakes.

The temple did have a female deity guarding one side of the gate, which we had never seen before, so that was cool. There was also some female deity (or perhaps the same one) painted on the ceiling, which I really liked.

Then we headed off to Roppongi to see the Mori Museum. This museum is on the 52nd floor, and we were led to believe that by some traveler that you could get a great view of the Tokyo skyline. Which you could, if you paid another 1000¥. Our choices then were a Warhol show or one of painting of children. I’ve seen enough Warhol in my life, so we saw the paintings of children. The paintings mostly came from Musee D’Orsay, and many were of the artists’ own children. It was interesting seeing Manet’s or Picasso’s paintings of their kids. I had never seen them and I thought, well of course they would have done paintings of their children! The reason I hadn’t seen them was because none of them were very brilliant. There were a few good pieces in the show, but they were of other themes involving children.

Rippongi was very ritzy, very different from Asakusa. Next we went to Shibuya to meet up with Michiko at the statue of the dog Hachiko. Shibuya looked like every shot I’d ever seen of Tokyo in a movie, kind of a Times Square x 10. There were four video advertisements playing on the sides of the buildings across from us, each video being many stories high. You know, huge.

Michiko took us to a building that used to be the hot new place when she was young, but was now passe. We ate at an Italian restaurant on the ninth floor that was practically empty, which was great. As I looked down on the crowds rushing around in the rain, it seemed strange to be in a city I’d seen in innumerable movies and heard of forever and not getting a kick out of it. I couldn’t wait to get back to Kyoto.

So, goodbye Tokyo! I’ll probably never see you again.

But I did get to ride the awesome Shinkansen again.

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