Saturday, July 10, 2010

When the 4th of July is just simply July 4th

I used to plan my life around holidays. What am I gonna make for the Thanksgiving potluck? Will anyone remember if I bust out the Super Absorbency (tampon superhero, duh) costume again this Halloween? Who's gonna invite the lonely Jew over for Christmas dinner? But now that I'm living in a mostly Buddhist country, the holidays I've celebrated, or at least been saturated in, my entire life have faded away like Marty McFly in that family photograph he kept tucked away in his puffy orange vest.

Christmas came and went without a single drug store candy cane and there was no mountain of rejected pastel Peeps hardening on the "somebody anybody eat this, please!" communal food table at work. Hannukkah? Yom Kippur? Pffft. I have given up trying to explain that I'm "Jewish" and my dad is from "Israel" where they speak a language called "Hebrew." Between the cocked heads and furrowed brows, you'd think I was explaining the Pythagorean theorem while dipping a newborn in chocolate. Which, funny enough, is exactly what Moses was doing right before he led the Jews out of Egypt and into the land of milk and honey.

So, it's not surprising that I completely forgot it was the 4th of July until I glanced at my bus ticket to Shirakawa-go and saw the familiar numbers stamped in the corner: 7/4. Ah! It's the 4th of July! But instead of elbowing my way through crowds of Budweiser-scented men wearing American flag tank tops & lighting bottle rockets, I would be taking myself on a day trip date.

Here's where I went:

I sat around with a bunch of older ladies and gents painting the scenery. I told the guy next to me his picture was pretty and he gave it to me!

The little thatched roof village is like walking through a fairytale, with butterflies fluttering through fields of flowers and frogs croaking from somewhere between the green blades shooting up from the small rice paddies. But after about 3 hours of wandering, I'd seen every house, every gift shop and taken enough photos to suitably drain my camera's battery. So I did what any self respecting American would do on Independence Day: I lit up some sparklers and burned that village down! No, wait, I did the other thing: I ate.

Yes, the rumors are true: I ate two ice creams, since the first one was disappointing (so it didn't count) which meant I "deserved" to advance into Round Two.
It doesn't look so disappointing, but the scoop of sugary strawberry ice cream, smooshed between two wafers, tasted more like "pink" than natural berry.  I forced myself to wait another three hours before caving into my old standby: a cone filled with creamy green tea and vanilla soft serve. 

When I saw that the little grilled mochi balls painted with soy sauce were a mere 70yen (about 70 cents) a stick there was no question I'd be having one of them; and who can resist a tiny old fashion bottle of milk squeezed from local cows? Not me. A complete milk drinking addict, I was often mocked for ordering a glass of cold milk at a fancy restaurant my partner and I were reviewing and my mother makes sure to have a carton waiting in the fridge when I visit.

Since it was the 4th of July, I decided to have a burger. A rice burger. That's what they called the two grilled rice patties sandwiching a little sauteed local beef and onions.

I sat in the little cafe, hiding from the humidity, nibbling my rice burger, guzzling water and attempted to get sucked in to my first Salman Rushdie book (So far? Meh). A day on my own. It truly was Independence Day.