We are back home. It’s one thirty in the morning and we are awake like it’s noon. Mulan, with a fever, is watching cartoons on TV and I am here in the kitchen eating yogurt and cereal. Oh jeez, I hope she doesn't get sick.
The trip to Japan was so much better than I expected it to be. I mean, of course I didn’t expect anything awful, but it just really exceeded my expectations. Meg and I had, probably, the best time we’ve ever had together. It was fantastic being able to travel with her and Mulan. Meg and I really got to have some long, long talks and even get some difficult topics between us worked out. She’s in a great place right now in her life. She’s happily married and her career is going well. She’s sort of seeing what her life is. And that’s true for me too. Our lives are not in the future anymore, it’s now. Maybe this is what happens to everyone in their mid-forties. Or maybe this feeling has extra oomph from me suddenly realizing that this is it, there’s no hereafter, no predestination in any sense, no living for tomorrow. Kenny Lonnergan had a play in New York called, “This Is Our Youth” – which was great, it was all about a few college kids after they graduated and had to go out in the world. And I keep thinking about that title about my own life: This is your life. This is your life. This is what happened. These are your friends. This is your child. This is your family. This is who you turned out to be. This is your story. It’s not in the future. It’s now. And now. And now.
It’s really powerful and makes me relax deeply. I am so much more present than I used to be. Wow, I’m really sounding Oprah-ish right now, so I’ll knock it off. Jeez. Maybe writing a blog in the middle of the night is not a good idea. Oh fuck it.
Okay. There’s a couple of wonderful moments in Japan I have to get down. One was at the spa in the Iya Mountains. We all went up to this little traditional Japanese hotel in the mountains. And they had hot springs and there was a little wood cable-car that lifted people up to the springs to take a bath. Of course, there was a women’s side and a man’s side. We could have signed up for a family bath, lots of families did. But we stuck to our gender, I mean, I don’t think it would be all that relaxing for me to hang out naked in a hot tub with my sister’s naked husband. Call me old fashioned.
Anyway, Meg and Mulan and I entered the women’s side and there were these five young girls in the hot springs. The springs have rock all around them and are very natural looking. Cherry blossoms were around the edges and it was all very rustic-Japanese. So as we entered these five girls, who were the only people in the bath, all giggled a little and commented to each other, in Japanese of course. Meg said they were saying that Mulan was so cute. The girls looked to me to be in their early twenties, and they were all so wholesomely beautiful, all had long black hair back in a chignons. The image I first had of them was startling, like we’d stumbled upon a gaggle of giggling wood nymphs or lounging goddesses or something. It was like we’d wandered back in time and we were the first foreigners they had ever seen and we were in the harem’s private bath. Their beauty was overpowering. I couldn’t believe they were real. Meg and Mulan and I got in the water and they departed after about ten minutes. But I continued to think of them, that startling image of five young beautiful naked Japanese girls lounging under bursting cherry blossoms. It was a moment out of time.
Later, we all went to dinner and we were all wearing the bathing kimonos that they give you when you arrive and which you are expected to wear the entire time you are at the hotel. And I looked down the row of guests, it was actually quite comforting to see us all dressed exactly the same, and there were the five girls, all sitting perfectly on their knees, sipping sake with such delicate precision and they looked at us again and slightly bowed their head in acknowledgement. I’ll never forget them.
Okay, here’s another great moment. Meg and Mulan and I went to Nikko, which is a town 80 miles north of Tokyo. We went to visit these ancient temples and shrines which sit in a huge wooded area. There are a few structures dating from the eighth century, but the biggest temples and shrines are from the seventeenth century. It’s all set in an enormous park with enormous tall, very, very tall trees. It’s actually thickly forested. The entire area is protected, and it’s 540 acres. We only wandered through a small part of it, of course. There were old, very old stone lanterns. And quaint, Chinese-styled bridges, and magnificent entryways.
The other temples I visited in Japan were actually sort of depressing to me. I mean, they sell all kinds of garish stuff: fortunes and incense and little trinkets that are awful. This time to Japan, I really saw the temples as more of a money making place than anything else.
But at Nikko, it was different. It actually had a feeling of sacred, and ancient, and there were no charms for sale, and it was cold and vibrant. Anyway, Meg and Mulan and I got there late, around 5:00 in the afternoon, when this part of the park is closing. And it was really cold, much colder than it had been anywhere else we had traveled. There was even some residual snow around in between the temples. And the guard told us to go ahead and wander around but that we couldn’t go inside anything because they were closing. And so we spent an hour just wandering around this wonderful place. Monks were closing the temples and they wore these beautiful kimonos, bright blue with a white jacket and the hair on the women was long and in one straight braid and the men head’s were shaved. And there was no one, and I mean this, no other person besides the monks and us. And we wandered and lingered and daydreamed and chatted as we strolled through this forest of trees and among these magnificent temples and gates and lanterns.
I have been to Kyoto several times and every time the temple was so thronged with people taking pictures that it wasn’t possible to get any sense of the temple itself. You just ended up gawking at all the other people gawking. But this was so private and beautiful. The knowledge that these structures had been there for so long, that they were so lovingly made, and delightful to lay eyes on, and Meg and I drifted in and out of conversation and Mulan skipped along ahead of us.
The other wonderful moment I had in Japan was in Tokyo. We really didn’t plan our trip as well as we could have. Well, I should say “I” because I was the one who wanted to go to both Nikko and Tokyo in three days, which I now see really cheats both places. We should have stayed at Nikko longer or skipped it and spent some time in Tokyo. In the end, even though Nikko is only 80 miles away from Tokyo, it took the better part of a day to get there, buses, trains, subway, taxi. But we got to our hotel just as the workday was finishing on Tuesday, and all these throngs of people, much bigger crowds than in New York, left work. And we went down and stood near a big crossing corner where everyone could cross diagonally or any which way, and it was thrilling. And the people were so fashionable, and good looking, and hip and sophisticated. I really felt like a doughy girl from Spokane, mouth agape, staring at all the cool kids. We ended up just standing there for a while, watching people. And that was the best moment of Tokyo. The next morning, before our flight home, we went down to hunt for blooming cherry blossoms, and we watched all the salarymen – that’s what they call all the male office workers, on their way to work. They are all practically in uniform, dark suits, white shirts, dark ties, moused, shaggy hair and an earring. And then an hour later, here came all the shopgirls, trendy and young, wearing the latest fashions, weary from a night partying. It’s really pretty sexually delineated like that too. It was odd, like seeing the future and the past all at the same time.
I realized I wish I could have spent at least five days in Tokyo. The way we worked it, we had about five hours to do what we wanted to. We went to a children’s museum and that was about it. And Nikko, I could have easily spent a week in Nikko. They have all kinds of hiking through those woods with trails and little places to camp, even. Oh, I could have spent so much more time there.
And of course, the food. The meals at the hotels were great. And when we were out on the go, we got these fish on sticks that they cook near charcoals on the street. Mulan especially loved those. And then, I have to say, one of the best meals I had of all was actually on the plane ride home. And Mulan ate almost everything, she was amazing. Few five year olds would be so open minded, I am sure.
And Meg really made the trip extra, extra memorable. She organized everything and was so generous when we were in Tokushima, she and Tsuyoshi paid for every single thing, drove everywhere. I was so worried, thinking how zonked out I would be in a similar situation here in L.A. And traveling with family with a child is TOTALLY the way to go. Not that being with Meg without a child, which I have done many wonderful times, is not also delightful. But I am feeling, understanding rather, the huge advantage being with family is when you have a child.
Whenever I’m with any adult here in Los Angeles, the childcare it totally my responsibility. Completely. Well, with one exception of one very close friend. And, anyway, this is as it should be. When I used to hang out with my friends who had kids I never took it upon myself to participate in their kid’s parenting or looking out after their kids in any way. I figured that was their responsibility. But with family, it’s different. They have a vested interest in this child and they expect to have a relationship with this child for years and it’s of benefit to them. And it makes everything so much easier. When we were all with Mulan, especially when we were with Tsuyoshi, three adults and one child, we could always dip into a conversation with Mulan or getting her something to eat or whatever she needed and it never felt obligatory or wearying, we all just traded off. And it made all our little trips so easy! Mulan did so well too. She had about three mini-tantrums on the whole eleven-day trip and those were mostly at the end and after a long day of traveling. And they didn’t last very long.
I realize that I am very much beginning to favor visiting people who also are interested in knowing Mulan. With many of my friends, and some of my closest old friends, our relationships are more difficult because of their disinterest in Mulan. Not that they aren’t interested at all, it’s just…well, I can’t judge them harshly because I was exactly the same way before I was a mother. I totally totally didn’t get it. The only kids I really kept a relationship up with were my niece and nephew. And I don’t even expect my friends to be sincerely interested in Mulan, I don’t think they even should be. All I’m saying is that when you are around people you like, who also have a vested interest in your child, it is GOLDEN. What a great trip all around.
Now, I just have to finish my book.
I did read a wonderful book on the trip. In fact, I cannot believe I haven't read this book before.
It's Mary McCarthy's "Memories of a Catholic Girlhood." Christopher Hitchens recommeded it to me after he saw my show, Letting Go Of God. I haven't read any Mary McCarthy, which is ridiculous, how could I have missed her? Anyway, this book is so good. Her prose is so powerful, her sentences so well, so well -- well I guess you can see that I do not even have the vocabulary, not to mention the art, of contructing a sentence that even describes her writing. wonderful? beautfiul? startling? hilarious? all sound trite. What a great book. I actually read it twice. The last chapter is about her grandmother and her grandmother's sister and it made me cry, reading it while I was with Meg. Wow, now I want to read everything she ever wrote.