Palo Alto

The two weeks I spent in Palo Alto, California, were actually quite lovely, despite my being alone for the most part--didn't know anyone there, and it seems a Japanese husband's work hours do not change at all when overseas. I'm discovering that I deal with solitude rather well. I wonder if my life in Japan has taught me that, or if it was just that all those friendly, chatty Americans (or maybe just Californians?) kept things from ever getting too quiet. Abruptly thrown into an environment where I could at last express myself fluently, even brisk exchanges with bus drivers and store clerks seemed to blossom into somewhat meaningful dialogue--oh no, that sounds pathetic, doesn't it. I did take absurd pleasure in being able to quip and jest and tease, where in similar situations in Japan I'd only be able to smile stupidly, brain and tongue paralyzed by my limited vocabulary.

One observation about America: if everyone started walking more than they drove, perhaps obesity would be less of a problem. Too expensive, I decided not to rent a car, and instead walked everywhere. Simply traversing the vast, endless parking lots that stretch like the Great Plains between the roads and each Walmart-type establishment took me ages. Combine that with navigating the formidable aisles of one enormous American drugstore or other in search of shampoo, and you've got the equivalent of an afternoon jaunt through the Rockies. I'm not kidding: I lost weight, my stomach got all nice and flat.

I admit I adore walking, getting the feel for a place, the people, the streets, the architecture, which moving on one's own two feet is the absolute perfect pace for doing. I'm also somewhat anti-cars. You miss so much, when you're speeding along, closed off from the outside world in your little moving cubicle. And personally, like wars and weddings, I think cars bring out the crazies in otherwise sane individuals. I've known sweet, mild sorts who'd suddenly start foaming at the mouth when placed in the driver's seat. Same goes for people personally involved in a wedding--one day sane, next day foaming mouths. There are obviously certain things in this world that human beings are not capable of handling in any semblance of a reasonable manner, and I think we should recognize and do away with such things.

Okay, sorry, back to my California trip. The highlights:

1) Spending the weekend in Olema, a little town just an hour-and-a-half drive north of San Francisco and near to Point Reyes National Seashore, an enormous national park with soft green hills, sheer cliffs, immense white-sand beaches, and sudden glimpses of wildlife: a hawk (or falcon?) perched on a fence, a shiny black flash of seal playing in the water, a whole herd of elk resting on a slope, an all-white deer nibbling grass.

We were surprised and thrilled with freakishly warm weather, allowing us to do some leisurely hiking and I to tear off my socks and sneakers and walk barefoot on the beach. The area was so beautiful, I only wish we'd had more time to explore. (I took pictures, but I can't upload them until I'm back in Japan.)

2) Stopping for lunch at an oyster farm and greedily slurping down three dozen fresh, salty oysters between the two of us in the warm sunshine at a picnic table right on the water of the Tomales Bay. Discovery: I suck at shucking.

3) Walking into an English library for the first time in four or five years, inhaling that collective old-book smell, and simply absorbing the fact that there were hundreds of books before me, free for the borrowing. What bliss.

4) Pho Kim Long (2082 N Capitol Ave, San Jose, CA; 408-946-2181)
Thanks, Anna, for the recommendation! I made the surprising discovery that the kind of meat cuts you choose to go with your pho can drastically alter the flavor of the soup. Once, I ordered just rare steak and my husband ordered some kind of combination, and his soup was so much more beefy and flavorful than mine.
***A bonus of eating at Pho Kim Long is that just a few shops up the street is Thanh Huong, where you can get a ginormous, crusty French roll sub sandwich with, say, liver pate, roast pork, and crispy, fragrant bits of coriander and pickled veggies for $2.50, people! There are about 15 other kinds of sandwiches, all made to order, ranging from $2 to $3.

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Rachael, I hope you have a wonderful christmas and new year with family and friends - look forward to seeing more of your gorgeous pictures next year! keiko

12/26/2005 12:40:00 AM  

I can so empathize with the sudden return of a sense of humor when one is back in the milieu of one's mother langauge... what a breath of fresh air. :-)

And I am totally with you on the Americans needing to start walking places bit. Right on.

12/27/2005 02:50:00 PM  

Yay nature, books, good food, and friendly people. Enjoy California, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

PS I wasn't one of those foamy people was I?

12/28/2005 01:13:00 AM  

Hi Keiko! Nice to hear from you! Hope you and your family had a happy Christmas as well.

Hi Jessica! It is a relief, isn't it? To be able to be more like one's regular old self, for a while.

Hi Jaime! Happy holidays to you too!
PS: No, you weren't foamy. But you had a lot of reasons to be, so I applaud your ability to control the foam.


from Rachel

12/28/2005 11:56:00 AM  

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