Monday, May 23, 2011


I grew up in the desert. Not the kind of desert of the Gobi or the Sahara, but a high mountain desert where pines and spruces and sage brush thrived; Home of the roadrunner and O'keefe's painted desert and howling pink coyotes. It was a place where rain usually means a ten minute drizzle. When it was more, when the heavens would open and poor thick sheets of rain and wash the desert landscape in peeling rolls of thunder and bright flashes of lightning, my whole world seemed to slip between the cracks of day-to-day reality into some space between worlds. Time would stop, or more like dissolve and suspend. The experience of rain was so novel that the first reaction was to run outside and get soaked to the bone floating tiny popsicle stick rafts down the gutters, following them until they inevitable washed down a drain or into an arroyo. Those rainy days make up some of my fondest memories.

Thus the rain always makes me think about my childhood. And the rain in Denver is not unlike the rain of my northern New Mexico childhood. The air smells similar, the light, the sound, the suspension of time.

On the way to Domo I was thinking a lot about rain, but also a lot about chopsticks. Partly, how the choice of utensil fundamentally alters the practice of consumption. The idea that a chopstick and the foodstuffs that are eaten with it are intrinsically wed, the bites only large enough to be properly held or scooped with and that the chopstick never severs but rather separates, sorts, and conveys. Yet really I was thinking about Lento and Yurika, two japanese exchange students that I knew when I was about eight. One summer they taught me an “incredibly difficult” technique for using chopsticks. To their surprise, I quickly mastered the technique and have used it ever since. From that day, every use of chopsticks transports me into the Japanese decor of their small vacation house, along with images of raku kilns and pocky and strange fish food flavored snacks in pringles like cans.

Between the gyoza, shumai, Nabemono, green tea, garden, dojo and decor, the actual visit to Domo was also a rich experience. One of the first things that we collectively observed was the moisture level and the resultant earthy aroma. This immediately made me think of my friend Hisao, a japanese artist I sometimes stay with in NYC, who once remarked that he didn’t like green tea in New Mexico and that so much of his enjoyment of green tea relied on the humid air to carry the aroma. I have often tried to notice whether and how my climate effects my senses after hearing this simple and perhaps obvious remark. Another thing I was thinking about --also prompted by something Hisao said--was the ceremonial aspect of crossing thresholds in Japanese culture. Consider the Dojo, where one must remove their shoes, don sandals, and actually step up and over a small barricade. You cannot simply walk on in and though the effort required is minimal, it is conscious and leaves you knowing you have transitioned into a new space. The door to a Japanese restaraunt, said Hisao, can tell you a lot about whether it will be good (or rather, authentic); it should be heavy, but open easily and freely, making it’s presence undeniable, but not an obstacle. This was the case with Domo’s door. Also, the way that the waiting room was laid out with full size tables made it feel warm and inviting, a place to unwind before moving in to dine.

When it came to the actual dining experience, I admit that some of my critical faculties were overshadowed by the pure enjoyment of eating. However, I was very impressed with the subtly contrasting flavors of the bean salad, fishcake sidedishes and the sweet and vinegary unnamed one as well. All of the ingredients in the Nabemono seemed incredibly fresh and while I was a little concerned that the Sakekasu Miso broth (ordered extra spicy) might overwhelm the flavors of the ingredients themselves, that wasn’t a problem at all. I also did notice that the green tea seemed particularly rich.

Anytime you perform an action with the conscious intent to deeply experience it, everything about that action becomes amplified, and this journey was no exception. What probably surprised me the most was that it prompted so many recollections.

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