Tuesday, December 23, 2003

nihongo ga joozu ja arimasen

Something that's bumming me out about moving out of my place is that I'm really enjoying Ohayoo. He has a friend visiting from Shizuoka, and she and I tried to have a conversation this morning while Ohayoo laughed and stirred fried rice at the stove. I studied Japanese for a couple of years in college, but it's all gone now; of all the things I've stuffed into my brain in the past thirty-odd years, why did I have to hold on to all those cereal commercial theme songs and lose the Japanese?

Anyway, Sayaka is a charming young woman, she likes the Haight-Ashbury very much, and hopefully tomorrow it won't be raining. That's the grand sum total of our communication. After she left the kitchen, Ohayoo turned around and said, "I'm listening, but I'm trying not to help." I couldn't tell which of us he was trying to force to practice--Sayaka her English, or me my Japanese? It turned out that he was making some kind of fried rice with Spam and things. He let it cool, and then he made four little packets shaped like pie wedges by filling a square of plastic wrap with rice, and then swiftly shaping it with his hands. When I asked, he told me he was bringing them to a friend who has to work in an office today, as a treat. What a sweetie!

My friend Risk, the only person I really keep in touch with from high school, is coming through town on the 31st. He has an 11-hour layover between Washington and Australia, and several friends in the Bay Area he wants to see, so he's going to BART into the Mission and hang out in a coffeeshop for a few hours, hold court. Introduce us to each other. I'm getting excited to see him. Risk and I had the kind of friendship that you usually see among girls--you know, hanging out on the phone all night, "you hang up first," "no you", like that. And then he graduated and I didn't see him for eleven years, until I needed a place to recuperate in Europe and he was working in Brussels, so I visited him there.

The thing that impressed both of us was that it was if those years hadn't passed. He met me at the train station, and of course I'd worried that I wouldn't recognize him, but he looked pretty much the same. And conversationally, we picked up pretty much where we'd left off at the wedding of a mutual friend--when I was 18. Of course, we had a lot to catch up on, but it was really nice to see that he was at heart the same decent, intelligent person he'd always been.

Brussels was an interesting visit all the way around. I was recovering from a bad Lariam experience, so I spent a lot of time in Risk's flat with his cats, working my way through his chocolate stash and his science fiction novels. Occasionally I would go out and take pictures of decorative ironwork (which I look at with great puzzlement today), eat pitas stuffed with corn, and visit galleries specializing in African art. It's a mixed thing, that last; I loved being able to see those pieces, but my awareness that they came to be in Belgium as a result of a particularly bloody colonial presence (King Leopold was anything but benign) was sobering. I also toured a chocolate museum, made the obligatory visits to the statues of peeing children, and got to see a solar eclipse (the photos of which I'm much happier with than those of the ironwork). I highly recommend Brussels for anyone who's getting worn out with Europe--the pace isn't so crazy, and you don't feel like you have to move-move-move the whole time you're there. Also, they have fruit-flavored beer.

It will be good to see Risk, and then go to my friends' parties. Last year's New Year was an awkward, anxious, and ultimately sad affair that ended in my driving a retching, viral E back from Santa Cruz and getting dumped a few days later after he'd recovered enough to do it. This whole month has been saturated with sadness, I'll be glad to have done with it. Having my friends around is making a huge difference.