Could use some copy editing, but a good take on travel.
Could use some copy editing, but a good take on travel.
Is it that we aren’t writing them, or is it that they aren’t getting published? I’m thinking of my own road trip last fall - it was an extraordinary experience. Two weeks on the road, alone, driving cross-country. It was a life-changing experience. I do think of my life as before and after that trip. But Vanessa Veselka is right, there isn’t a narrative that my trip fits into, and whenever I talk about it, my listeners assume my goal was to get across the country as fast and as cheaply as I could. Or they express wonder that I was willing to undertake it, or able to complete it.
And it’s not like if you met me you’d describe me as conventional, or meek, or the sort who’d fall apart upon encountering the unknown. I’m organized, fierce, capable, meet people easily, and known as someone who rises to a challenge.
So, yes. This is a story that needs to be told.
I’ve made a lot of hours of television over the years, but I think I’m proudest of Sunday’s Libya episode. I believe it is the best piece of work I’ve ever been part of. Some of that pride comes from recalling how difficult it was. My crew and I are not exactly seasoned veterans when it comes to…
Last weekend was rainy and I abandoned the cherry blossoms for Fukushima prefecture…yes that Fukushima prefecture. I’m sure many will be surprised to find that it is more than the name of a troubling nuclear reactor—it is also the name of a city and of the prefecture that contains the city. The particular part I went to was 100 km due west of the infamous hotspot, a city called Aizu Wakamatsu, which is famous for its castle (Tsuruga-jo) and a squad of teenager soldiers who famously committed suicide during the Boshin War (essentially a civil war) in the mid-1860s.
Unbeknownst to us, the area drew in-country tourists’ attention due to a recent NHK drama, which features the true story of a young samurai girl who fought during this rebellion due to her skill in gunnery and later went on to have a rather fascinating modern sort of life for a Japanese woman of the time.
We dutifully toured the castle and the site of the suicide, which was on the top of a nearby hill. The area was bare of grass due to the passage of many many feet over the years and there lay the sad line of graves for boys who wouldn’t even be old enough to drive or marry or even remember to do their homework. What was more upsetting was both Hitler and Mussolini chose to send monuments to honor their sacrifice. It left one with an odd feeling.
However, climbing down the hill from this area, we literally stumbled across the structure above—it is called Sanzaedo, which means Temple of the Turban Shell. If the architecture looks a bit odd, it is—a rickety wooden building from 1796, that somehow survived fires and earthquakes and all kinds of turmoil. It was quite literally the most fascinating temple I have ever seen—there is nothing in the interior except a pair of ramps, one going up and one going down, which meet at the top. The walls house funny little enclosures of pictures of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, and the core features, at regular intervals, an impossibly narrow pass-through, which could take one from the up ramp to the down ramp or vice versa. You can get something of an idea of it here.
The rain, the rickety wooden ramp, the marvel of a building…it made the entire trip worth it.
I might also add a few words about the ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) that we stayed at. While we have stayed at ryokan before, this one was befuddling, and I fear, somewhat typical. First of all, they are nothing at all like Western hotels because one must eat and bathe and sleep and wake up all at prescribed times. We wanted to wash up before dinner which confounded the ryokan ladies. It probably did not help I slipped and fell on the slippery tile in the bathroom managing to smash my back on a faucet and bruise my arm. Thus limping, I had the traditional Japanese meal in a sort of hearth around a fire, with a well for one’s feet to be tucked away in. The food was beautiful, well-prepared and mostly delicious—save for the ayu, a kind of river fish that used to be nearly extinct. For some reason, Japanese love it, and insist upon consuming it, head and all, while it stares at you balefully like an angry sardine…I am definitely an adventurous eater but this was nearly too much for me. In addition, I accidentally knocked some of my pickles off the tray into the ashes of the fire, where I then tried desperately to cover them up with the fire tongs before any of the ladies could see. I had a feeling a terrible punishment would follow.
After dessert, which turned out to be a non-sweet pudding of…pumpkin…we went back to our room to pretty much fall asleep. Upon waking, K. discovered the door to the ryokan was locked and our shoes were no where to be found—there would be no escape and no morning stroll, just a breakfast of more fishes. I almost never find myself in these kind of awkward situations in Japan anymore, so it sort of refreshing to be reminded of how strange it all once seemed.
There seems to be some controversy about the origin of the first Cookies n’ Cream flavor. A taster from Edy’s Grand Ice Cream claims to have made it up, as did an ice cream vendor in Portland and someone at the Dairy Plant at South Dakota State University. R.W. Apple, in a well-phrased NY Times piece on the ice-cream loving Germans of central Texas, said that while Blue Bell Creamery did not invent the flavor, it did “pioneer” the combination, tearing open bags of Oreos to put in the mixing vats in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s.
No one would claim, of course, that Cookies n’ Cream is a Pakistani invention. But three decades after Cookies n’ Cream came from nowhere to become one of the most popular flavors in the U.S., it’s clear that Zubair has hopes that that combination of vanilla ice cream flecked with chocolate cookie will help keep his shop up with the times. As we talk, he hands me a sturdy cup filled with two generous scoops of the flavor. He motions for me to take a bite, watching me intently as I do. I tell him it’s nice, but I’m not too convinced. I don’t get any taste of cookies, or of the distinct creaminess for that matter. Instead it is too sweet, slightly buttery.
This news, if I had delivered it honestly, would have likely demoralized young Zubair quite a bit. Which is a shame, because he is actually proprietor of something far more interesting than a western-flavored creamery. Chaman is <em>desi</em> ice cream for the people. Small cups still cost just 40 rupees ($0.40) and larger helpings are 90 rupees ($0.90). “Look at the prices of ice cream in other ice cream parlors, their prices are very high,” Zubair says with a hint of disgust. “My father [wanted] everyone to be able to afford and enjoy his ice cream, irrespective of their class or background.”
Just then, a group of young women—all clad in black abayas, sporting sunglasses with bling, waltz past the counter. One of them motions to a waiter to take their order.
I try the mango ice cream—itself a pure, fresh flavor—but with a scoop of pineapple on top. This is my version of cookies n’ cream: an unlikely combination that just works. The flavors blend together in a delectable, sweet concoction: ideal for the heat of a Spring day in Lahore.
From Sonya Rehman’s taste-test of east vs. west at Chaman Ice Cream parlour in Lahore, Pakistan.