Okinawa Exile #3: Black Humor / 沖縄#3:黒光

Things are calming down. The disasters in Japan are last week's news for the major American news sources, and even Japanese television has returned to its rotation of melodramas and insipid game shows. Today I had a another 'first talk since this all went down" with a Japanese friend, an Okinawan woman in grad school in Tokyo. She laughed as if she was letting out a long-held breath: "There's a lot to talk about, so let's get a drink when you get back to Tokyo."

The situation is still very serious in the Northeast, but it sounds like there's room for some laughter there, too. My friend in Sendai reported that there is a healthy does of gallows humor.

A pregnant friend in Tokyo responded to a worried text of mine that she was not panicking, but picnicking. There's been all kinds of talk about Japanese stoicism in the face of this crisis, many Western observers doing all but coming straight out with the phrase "Samurai spirit." Spare me. There are cultural reasons for the relative calm in Japan, but they have specific historical reasons. A quick refresher course in the public reaction to the Great Kantô Earthquake of 1923 (murder of ethnic Koreans and socialists) will remind us all that there is no unbroken line between the Japanese aristocracy of the Tokugawa Era (1600-1868) and the average middle-class Japanese citizen. But now I'll put the little historian in me back in her box.

Black humor in Miyagi. Black outs in Tokyo. Black moods here and there. And... a sneaking suspicion that I may be lactose intolerant, leaving me staring into my cup of black black coffee.

So no more cream for me for a while. I feel inspired to give a black dinner, like Esseintes in À rebours. His feast of all-black dishes was given to mourn his lost virility; mine would be to mourn the passing of my voracious omnivorousness. Of course, I can barely believe my enormous good fortune that it is my luxury to lose so little when others have lost so much.

Great also is my fortune that Okinawa's access to fruits of the sea offers me access to squid ink of the deepest blue-black.

I mentioned my desire to cook with squid ink to newly befriended mainland Japan expat, as I sipped my coffee (hold the cream) in a snug stall at the Sakae Machi Market. She guided me over to her favorite fish monger, and he gave be a small bottle of squid ink. He insisted that he had gotten it as a gift, so I shouldn't pay for it. I bought some salmon steaks from him to make it easier to accept his generosity.

The squid ink truly resembled ink, and tasting it straight offered a salty flavor, deep in umami.

The fishmonger had recommended that I cut the ink with awamori (distilled rice liquor). I added both the ink and the awamori to some sauteed onions and garlic.
I had bought some fresh Okinawa noodles, and was eager to besmirch them in this black goo.

Rotating pans on the single burner, I also managed to make a light miso soup, using the yomogi and taaimo from my previous post:
The salmon was pan fried with salt, brown sugar, black pepper.

Because I could not really bear such a somber mood, I introduced a bit of play to the meal. Our "green" for the meal would be "sea grapes," another variation on the theme of seaweed.
I plucked a couple of nasturtiums from the little plant I had bought to brighten my temporary lodgings. The nasturtiums that are plentiful here in Naha evoke California for me, and offer a hint of familiarity within the unfamiliar. I guess I can't seem to give myself over entirely to the black arts...

The plate was plenty exotic, dark, and mysterious, however...

It proved to be a delicious harvest from the sea that surrounds us:
It yields darkness...
And it yields life...

Over the past few days I've thought a lot about the terrifying rapidity of destruction, and how much longer... frustratingly longer... it takes to build, sow, and reap. It feels like chaos and confusion, uncertainty and danger, are never really that far away.
It's a tired observation, I guess. But I've never felt it with such urgency. Don't wait until tomorrow to call your friend back. Don't put off that visit. Don't postpone life.

But please, please: also let yourself have the patience for it.

Obligatory end shot of happy colors.

Ever so humbly: Itadakimasu.

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