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In the void

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I’ve crossed the Pyrenees and finished the trail, and now it’s on to a new journey in a quiet place called Plum Village. Home to Vietnamese mindfulness teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, the Plum Village is located about fifty miles from Bordeaux. Every season students are invited to spend a week at the village to practice in a community of others trying to approach life with awareness and attention, simplicity and intention. I just so happen to be here at the start of a three week retreat on the theme “what happens when we die?” And so a few weeks ago, I booked my place.

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For more information on the village, check out http://www.plumvillage.org. There you’ll find more on what mindfulness means to the community here and the background on Thay. Spoiler- Thay gave Martin Luther King Jr. a foundation on peaceful protest. Pretty amazing.

I will not have access to internet during the three weeks there, and I’m sort of excited not to! No offense ­čÖé I’ve been a bit more attached to my social media these past few weeks than I’d like to admit.

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So, til the other side, here’s a little picture of my European progress. About 1,000 miles in four weeks- not bad work!

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Pretty in pink

Pretty in pink

Kyoto has many of the few geisha in Japan, and the training process is long. Six months without family contact, a test of skills, then five years apprenticeship as a maiko before becoming geisha, or geiko. Geisha today, or most of them, do not function as high class escorts, as media in the West portrays them. Instead, the perform highly classified dances, songs, and costume for high paying guests at parties. As the BBC documentary features one geisha mother describing it, “It is like having a live flower as your company. ”

These maiko were enjoying a stroll in the good weather in the tourist area of Arashiyama near the bamboo forest.

Happy camping

But once I got out of Nagoya, Nanako’s good wishes must have followed me, ┬ábecause I had the dreamiest ride to Lake Biwa, the biggest in Japan, and found a miraculous open and unoccupied campsite on its shore.

Absolute score.

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Spice Cream

I had no idea what a wasabi root looked like. I can’t say I knew it was even a root. Or how it grows. Or how it is harvested. Or well, anything, except that I like it and it’s green and it always comes in a little pulverized mound next to a few limp strands of ginger in those store-bought sushi trays back home.

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If you are similarly ignorant of this little vegetable, this could be a fascinating post, as I went to a wasabi farm and saw first hand how the suckers are grown! Between Nagano and Azumino, the Daio Wasabi Farm offers just such an experience. And a taste of wasabi delicacies like croquettes and ice cream.

Wasabi grows as a rough root, about a hand’s length long for a medium size, with a few broad leaves that sprout from its purple stems. Sort of carrot like, as a comparison. It is farmed in a rocky stream bed, in rows that run perpendicular to the channel. Cold spring water laps between the beds, keeping the plants nourished without sweeping them away. Wasabi needs high humidity and clean water, though it can be grown in soil if lime is blended into it.

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To harvest, farmers pull through the beds with a metal rake or pitchfork, gently dragging up the roots and collecting the plants in total. Other workers then remove stems and leaves, which are later used in preparing the wasabi product in addition to the root.

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And of course, there’s so many things you can do with wasabi besides pulverize it. It need not always be concentrated into an intense spice, but adds depth to unexpected things like ice cream! Naturally, being the soft cream addict I am, this was a necessary 10AM indulgence.

IMG_7055IMG_7056WWOOFing on a wasabi farm? I’ll think about it.

Following Rivers

(*For an overview of the journey so far, here’s a google map for your viewing pleasure)

WE MADE IT!

Hermes and I have cut through the Japanese Alps, him diligently taking each incline under tire while I screamed, grunted, cursed, and scared every passerby with my exasperation at finding myself, unsurprisingly, still in the mountains. I also laughed my own tears dry, and the story has the happiest ending of finally making it to Nagoya, where I had the long-awaited meeting with Nanako, daughter of the adorable Cocopeli restaurant couple I met three weeks ago.

But it was a struggle, oh yes.

In a later post, once all the appropriate photographs are collected, I will detail the best and worst road conditions of Japan thus far. I’m already crafting alliterations and abbreviations for it.

Before that, though, here’s some of the views that the Alps have to offer, and they really make every drip of sweat worth it.

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