Tuesday, November 27, 2007

when in Rome...

One of the cardinal rules of pregnancy in the States is "Don't Eat Sushi." I remember waiting tables at a sushi restaurant in San Francisco, and more than a few times it happened that there was a pregnant lady in a party of four, looking resentfully at her companions as they gobbled hamachi and maguro while she feasted on cucumber rolls.

The Japanese have no such rule. I've asked several women about it, and they've never heard of abstaining from raw fish during pregnancy; in fact, my maternity handbook even lists sashimi as a recommended source of protein in the "food pyramid" scheme.

Last weekend, J and I accompanied Shohei and Tomomi to Kanazawa, a lovely city on the coast of the Sea of Japan -- home of the 21st Century Art Museum, and famous for its fresh fish. We planned to partake of both.

A recently pregnant friend of mine spent part of her pregnancy in Spain, where she heard it was just fine for pregnant ladies to have a glass of wine a day. I'm not saying this to flout doctor's orders, or to suggest that alcohol really has no affect on the baby and those mean male obstetricians just don't want us to have any fun during gestation; I just want to point out that different cultures have different um, wisdom about pregnancy.

It's up to you to decide which rules to follow when you're pregnant, but I was in Kanazawa, and I figured, When in Rome... And the suzuki sashimi was delicious.

The next day we spent playing in the museum, which was truly delightful with its bright open design and interactive installations. It seems that 21st century art is not about looking at a painting or a sculpture, but about being enveloped in a concept. Many of the exhibits took up entire rooms, some even required us to stand in line and view the piece two, three, seven people at a time.

Here's a wall hand-painted in the particular pattern of Kanazawa yuzen.

One of our collective favorites was The Swimming Pool, by Leandro Erlich. From above, it looked like a regular pool, but actually the water was a 10cm layer at the top of a glass-ceilinged room below.

From outside, it looked as though a crowd of people had sunk to the bottom, fully clothed and heavy as rocks. Once inside, you could look up at the blurry figures of people standing poolside, and imagine that you were looking up from the blue watery deep end -- but could still breathe!

Shohei loved the Blue Planet Sky exhibit: a vast empty room with a high ceiling and a square hole open directly to the sky. The idea was so simple, but its effect so enchanting -- a great box of light, a three-dimensional sky painting, of changing texture and hue, dappled clouds and passing crows -- that we went back a couple times to experience it both in the sun and in the pouring rain.

Shohei snapped this photo afterwards, catching the framed sky in a puddle.

My favorite exhibit was a room lined with panels of cardboard, each one bearing a giant painted seed, a catalogue of a variety of plants in Japan. The center of the room was occupied by three large cardboard ships, round and tall and sort of pointed at one end. Seeds are ships, the exhibit explained, traveling far and wide with their information and influence.

I was struck at once by the parallel of having a little seed of my own growing inside, and how amazing it still is to me that from the moment of his conception he contained all the information for his development in a tiny cluster of cells. My breath caught in my throat and I wanted to cry a little, but I fought back tears because it seemed silly to be so moved by cardboard.

But I was moved. I am moved by the potential in things; by growing things, things that start small and seem inconsequential, but unfold and unfurl and astound you with their complicated beauty. All that happens, all that is possible, comes from just a little seed.

We stopped for oden after the museum, warming our bellies on daikon, tofu, eggs, chikuwa, and seaweed before getting on the road to drive back to Kyoto.

It rained the whole time, as it should on the way home. I felt happy and sleepy in the back seat, basking in the richness of friendship and the exquisite satiation of art and food.


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