Exploring Nara

Sumi ink by Christine Flint Sato. WordPress forced cropping of the exquisite scroll.

The temple bell that rings at 6 a.m. awakened me. Otherwise there was quiet, blessed quiet.

Some hours later, we ventured out into a pedestrian mall filled with tiny shops selling clothing, leather goods, pastries, groceries, and other wares. One shop on the main street offered just tabi socks. Kathryn explored and reported that some pairs of socks sold for $250! Instead, we bought chestnut-filled pastries since it’s the season. One had an outer crust the texture of phyllo and was not sweet – a good thing.

We passed a mob of people surrounding this one stand that had two entrances. The people in the back worked furiously as the woman in front kept shoving people toward the street. Hiro explained that they were waiting for another variety of chestnut-filled pastries, only available at this time of year and apparently an exception to the rule against eating while standing and or walking. We did not try to fight the crowds.

A stroll through the park where the sacred deer roam meant battling mobs of people. It doesn’t seem possible that these narrow little streets can fit the gigantic tour buses that disgorge the teeming masses.

As soon as I saw the deer – small things, about the size of a large dog – all I could think was TICKS! After all I live near ground zero for Lyme disease. It was as hard to dodge them as it was the people. I did not feed them or otherwise interact with them but did experience a great deal of amusement watching them eat their “cookies” and butt people who didn’t feed them quick enough.

Upon returning to the studio, we met the calligrapher Christine Flint Sato whose work is on display and the very retiring gentleman who built the scrolls for her sumi ink paintings.

Following a delightful couple of hours, Hiro took us to lunch at a traditional soba restaurant. The noodles had a delicate quality, much thinner than what I’ve had before.

Along with the soba in flavorsome broth, we had servings of mini-tempura: one enormous shrimp, pumpkin, seaweed, ginger, and carrot. Surprisingly filling.

Upon our return, we chatted more with Christine. The three scrolls in the living room are circle, square, and triangle, a motif that a great many artists use. The circle is my favorite of all her works.

After tea we explored further, passing Yamata-Cha from which a heavenly scent wafted as the owner roasted tea.

A short walk brought us to Nara Craft Museum. There we saw a woman making calligraphy brushes. She tamped the bottom edge of the bristles to even them, then took a blade, pulling and cutting a few bristles at a time. Her hands moved almost too fast to see clearly. She had eight or so brushes awaiting handles – at least I think that would be the next step.

The brush maker was sitting out in the open. A room off to the side was filled with looms where people were taking a break from weaving placemats (?) and other small objects. The fibers looked similar to the cloth in the suits of the women on the Ohara bus, so textile exploration might be in order.

Elsewhere cases and cases of pottery of all sizes sat on display. Many of them had a glass of water tucked into the corner, a simple way to humidify the air.

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