October 10, 2015, Manhattan.
Actually, the New York chronicles start in Japan. And the Japan chronicles start in a bed in Ghent, Belgium. I will not take you that far back – I shouldn’t play all of my cards at once, soon there’ll be a novel to sell. It is four in the afternoon. In the far corner of the tatami floor, the professor’s daughter is performing the tea ceremony. Before the ceremony she was trembling all over. Her teacher is watching her every move behind her back, while repeatedly smiling and checking on the guests’ well-being. Tears well up in my eyes as she starts speaking.
“Now please all look at hanging scroll”, she whispers with a quaint bow, “over five hundred years old and painted by velly famous zen monk. It says moon, one thousand, autumn and beauty. It’s meaning one thousand years ago the fall was also beautiful. So don’t worry. Beauty will return each year. You will see so much more beauty in your lifetime. That is what we celeblate on this tea cellemony. The flowers under the hanging scroll come from my garden. I cut them this morning.”
“Oooh?”, the Japanese in the room reply in concord. This was one of reasons for me to leave the country. Funny. It still annoys me. “I hope my sweets are not too bitter. I make myself at home. I tried make them look like pumpkin”, she smiles shyly, “but I know don’t look like it.” The professor’s daughter is still as water as she carries out the choreography of tea making.
“When you leceive your tea, please bow first to the tea cellemony leader to thank her. Then bow to the guest next to you. With bowing, you say: I’m solly, I going to have my tea now. First. Before you. I’m solly. Then take it into your hand and turn it clockwise two times to show the lest of the company the flont of your tea bowl. That is showing lespect for the company and for the maker of the bowl. After that, hold the tea bowl up and turn it alound a little. We do that to show our appleciation for the work of the tea cup maker.” The maker suddenly appears and explains that, to make good tea bowls, she needed to study the tea ceremony first. Most of her bowls have poetic names. The bowl the professor’s daughter is using to stir the tea is called “dark jungle.”
“Whoo, sounds scaly”, the teacher says.
“Uuuuh”, the Japanese nod.
“In tea cellemony, we use all five senses”, the teacher whispers, “you see the autumn kimono we wearing so beautiful with nice colour, you smell the tea, you eat the sweet, you feel the tea bowl with your hands and you hear the sound of the hot water. We must be so silent to hear it. Now dlink. No it is not too bittel because you had sweet before.”
After the professor’s daughter cleans the long wooden tea spoon, the teacher holds it up. “Look. This tea spoon is made with wood from the centuries-old Daitoku-ji temple in Kyoto. Name is Ko-san. That is meaning go many times. It’s zen word that means is good to take your time to get know something. If you really want to know something, you go many times. Go many times and you will be successful.”
I was in Japan only once. I stayed until asked to leave. It started almost exactly three years ago, on a perfect autumn afternoon.
To be continued…