City of Hogs

When Gatha Snowmoss, roving photojournalist, spent some time with the band in Memphis this spring, she showed her appreciation (no other reporter has been afforded the kind of no holds barred inside look at the Pigs that she got) by giving each of us a book -- a pig-related book, of course.  Each one perfectly tuned (or so it seemed to me) to our individual personalities.  I'm sure her ability to size her subjects up so quickly accounts for much of her recent success.

I'll leave the others to comment on their own books, but for me it was The Pig and the Skyscraper (Chicago: A history of our future) by Marco d'Eramo.  I've been reading it over the last couple of weeks and enjoying it tremendously.  D'Eramo is an Italian sociologist and the book was published in Italy in 1999 (translated into English in 2002).    So reading it is like eavesdropping on an Italian professor trying to explain America (through the lens focused on Chicago) to an Italian audience. 

I wonder, as I'm reading it, if Europeans, reading books about Europe written by Americans, have the same sort of reaction that I'm having -- some of it is wonderfully perceptive, but some of it just seems so bone-headedly wrong, like the anthropologist coming across a "primitive" culture and devising all sorts of esoteric explanations for what he or she sees, while the ostensible subjects are laughing behind their hands at the foolish scientists.  (Remember the Margaret Mead controversy of a couple of years ago?)

The fact that so much housing stock in the US is wood fascinates d'Eramo and he gives it great significance in explaining the American character -- in Europe wood is apparently seldom used.  He makes much of the American invention of the suburb, and exaggerates the social/cultural divides that occur in many parts of the States.  His description of race relations is extremely one-dimensional and diminishes the actual complexities that the country wrestles with.  In the America that he describes, Obama's ascendancy would simply not be possible.  There is always truth in his observations, and yet there is also a clear skewing of facts and interpretations in order to hammer home his rhetorical truths.  D'Eramo comes from a decidedly Marxist bent, and this lens opens up some wonderful observations, but also seems to blind him to some obvious contradictions between what he claims and what seems to me to be obviously the case.

At any rate, it is a great fun provocative and challenging read and perfect for these last few days before I spend a week in Chicago.  And it is another stark reminder that the way the rest of the world views us in the States is not necessarily the way that we see (or would like to see) ourselves.

Magic Kingdom

About four in the afternoon, Josie drifted off to sleep in her stroller as we walked from Fantasyland to Tomorrowland.   We'd started that day (our 2nd) early, arriving at the Magic Kingdom a little before 9:00 for our breakfast with the princesses in Cinderella's castle.  We'd been anticipating that there'd be some kind of a meltdown at some point, Josie feeling overwhelmed with it all, but that hadn't happened.  We'd been at the park until 10:00 the previous evening and throughout it all, she'd been happy and at ease and delighted with everything that she saw.  By now she had her little autograph book nearly filled, and she still didn't know anything about the lunch we'd be having with the Little Einsteins the next day.

I found a bench in the Tomorrowland plaza and took out my journal to write for a bit and keep an eye on Josie while Lynn & Marian went off to ride Space Mountain.  It's a little ironic that of all of the lands in Magic Kingdom, it's Tomorrowland that looks most dated -- such a quaint and optimistic vision of what the world would be like now, seen through the rosy glasses of someone fascinated with the potential of technology back in the fifties.  Lynn and I were particularly amused at the news robot -- up to the minute news, printed out while you wait.  But it's that veneer of foolish optimism that I love about Disneyworld -- as long as we can imagine such things, perhaps all is not lost.

Josie's good spirits would continue through the rest of the trip.  That afternoon, she slept about ninety minutes and then was ready to go again.  We had tickets for Mickey's special Christmas party, so we didn't leave the park until midnight.  The only thing that gave her trouble on the entire trip was the fireworks -- she does NOT like fireworks.  It's the noise.  She seems to have sensitive hearing to begin with (I noticed her covering her ears during the Christmas parade when some of the loudest floats came by, and she seemed to be the only small kid doing that).    She's been through fireworks a few times and knows what they're about, so I don't think it actually frightens her as much as it hurts her.  Her message to Mommy is, "Make it stop or get me outta here!!"  But she did tell me, later on, "When I'm big, I'll listen to fireworks okay."

She showed none of the shyness that small children sometimes do around the costumed characters, and she knew all of their names.  She'd stand in line patiently, her autograph book under her arm, opened to a blank page, her pen clutched in her hand, and when it was her turn she'd trot up, hand them to the character, and then give them a big hug and pose for the pictures.  (When Lynn & Marian downloaded the shots from their cameras, there were a total of 317.  Lynn says she's whittled them down to about 250).

Of the princesses, it is clear that Snow White is her favorite.  At breakfast, when they made their rounds of the tables, she was happy to see them all, but not the least intimidated.  But when Snow White came up, she was awed.  She had a similar reaction when she saw Woody (from Toy Story) that night.  She came walking back to me after getting her autograph and hug and the look on her face was bliss -- as if she was a thirteen year old who'd just been kissed by her favorite popstar.

The carousel, the teacups (which she called "coffee!" of course), Buzz Lightyear, the Transit Authority, and the Peter Pan flying boats seemed to be her favorite rides, although she was quite proud of herself at the end of Haunted Mansion.  Her mom had been prepping her for dealing with the witches and ghosts for weeks (since Hallowe'en).   "What do you do when you see a ghost?" Marian would say, swaying and making a whoo-whoo sound.  "Roarrrr!" Josie would say, going into her tiger crouch.  She rode with me through Haunted Mansion, doing a lot of roaring as we went through the graveyard, and hopped out of the gondola at the end jumping up and down and crowing, "I did it!  I did it!"

She's two months shy of three years old which might be a little young for Disney.  But she's very verbal, and by last spring, she knew all the character names and Marian thought she might be able to manage a short trip.  It was tremendous fun for all of us.  We're already talking about next time.

It Started in Omaha

In March of 1984, I made my second visit to Omaha.   The first had been in 1962, a family vacation to visit my mother's sister, whose husband was a colonel in the air force -- a trip, incidentally, during which my youngest sister was conceived, according to family lore.

I had very little notion of what I was going to do with the rest of my life.  I was in my late twenties and had spent the previous eight months at NLM as a Library Associate, a circumstance that I would never have believed possible barely a year earlier.  I was a sponge at NLM.  I'd gone into library school with only the vaguest notion of maybe being a reference librarian in a small college library, and then found myself with free rein to explore the largest specialized library in the world, filled with some of the most fascinating and influential characters a tyro librarian would ever have the opportunity to meet.  It had been an astonishing time, but I still didn't know what I wanted to do  once my year as an Associate was up and I had to start thinking about finding a real job.

My mentors at NLM had me pegged for a management career.  What they saw in me in those early days remains a mystery to me yet, I was so shy and uncertain, and at the same time so arrogant and pompous.  Fairly insufferable most days, I'm sure.  I knew practically nothing and my work experience was almost all in factories.  I was a pretty good fork-lift driver and I'd built a modest reputation as a guitar player on my college campus, but that was about it.

Nonetheless, it was decided that for my March practicum (a standard part of the program in those days) I should spend a week with Bob Braude and his crew at the McGoogan Library of Medicine in Omaha.  Bob was (rightfully) considered to be among the very best library directors of the day and he had gathered around him an astonishing group of innovative and creative and engaged young librarians.  If one wanted to see the potential for what a library could be as we moved into the end of the 20th century, this was one of the best places to check it out.

I stayed at Bob's house and from the moment I groggily came down to the kitchen where he'd be fixing breakfast for us, until late in the evening after his wife had fixed another wonderful dinner, we'd talk about libraries and what was happening with them and how you could make them better and more effective and what it meant to try to pull together a crew of great librarians and turn them loose.  During the day, I'd sit in on his meetings, I'd listen to all of the discussion.  The meeting would end and Bob would say, "So, now you've heard the situation.  What do you think we should do?"  And we'd talk through his decision making process so that I could begin to get a grasp of the impossible balancing act that is required to juggle all of the competing interests that come into play for almost every decision that a director ends up making on any given day.

During most weeks, not much happens to change the course of one's life.  On any given Sunday, you're pretty much the same person that you were the previous Sunday, and the contours of your life haven't shifted perceptibly.  Some weeks, though, are clear turning points, and this was one of them.  I remember, late on Friday, exhausted but happy, slumped in my seat on the metro, riding from National Airport up to my stop in Silver Spring, thinking back on the week.  "That's where I want to be.  I'm going to be the director of one of those libraries one day."   Six years later, I was.

In the years since, it's happened that I've been to Omaha many times.  While I was living in St. Louis, I would go up once or twice a year for the Regional Medical Library advisory meetings.  I've always had a great time, and it's been fun to watch the downtown area grow and develop into a really great conference location.   Even if it wasn't full of great memories for me, I'd be looking forward to the trip.

I've crossed paths in Omaha with a number of the women that I've loved, but the most important encounter was when I accepted Lynn's invitation to have dinner with her when we were both attending the Chapter meeting in 1993.  I'd been to group dinners that she'd hosted two or three times before, but this was the first time that it was just the two of us, and even though it was a business dinner and neither of us could have imagined how our lives would become intertwined, I think back on it as one of the finest evenings I've ever had at a conference.  We went to Vivace, a great little place in the Old Market.  We have a reservation there for dinner tonight.

In the many times that I've been back to Omaha these twenty-three years, I think I've only been back to the McGoogan Library once.  But I'll be there tomorrow night for the welcome reception.  Mark Funk will be there, too.  He was one of those incredibly bright and passionate young librarians that Braude had gathered around him a quarter-century ago.  Now he's the President of the Medical Library Association, coming to the meeting to give an update on the work and workings of MLA.  The reception will be loud and fun and there'll be lots of conversation and greetings of old and new friends and all the rest.  But I suspect that Mark will be doing some of what I'll be doing as well -- looking around the corners, seeing his younger self here and there, remembering what it was like when that building played such an important role in his life, and all of the changes that have happened since.

Solitude in the City

I'm typically quite eager to get on the plane headed to wherever.  Even in these days when the papers are full of complaints about overcrowded skies and delayed flights I'm happy to be traveling.  So I was a little surprised yesterday to be feeling so blue as I drove out to the airport for my flight to Chicago -- particularly since Chicago is one of my very favorite cities.

It's largely because this time Lynn isn't going to come up to join me.  Back when she was on the MLA Board, I would come to Chicago following the February & September board meetings.  We'd stay until Sunday and go to museums & galleries, out to a show, try out new restaurants.  When I was elected to the Board, we set up the same pattern, and so she was initially planning to join me tomorrow.   But then, with all of the chaos surrounding the opening of Gymboree, she thought better of that plan and decided to skip this one.  I don't disagree with her decision at all, but it just doesn't feel right to be up here without her.

My reaction is particularly unexpected because generally I relish solitary travel.  I like being able to explore cities, to get lost in them, to find my way into unexpected places, on my own schedule, without having to deal with the long list of compromises that are usually part of the experience of traveling with someone.  But then, compatibility in traveling is one of the hallmarks of my relationship with Lynn.  I remember, very early on, during one of the first trips we took together, we were walking along having such a good time, and I blurted out, "Being with you is almost as good as being alone!"  As soon as the words were out of my mouth I was aghast, because it sounded horrible, but she just laughed and knew exactly what I meant. 

So I should have been glad for the chance to have an extra day on my own in Chicago, but the fact is that I identify this city so much with her now.  It's where our romance began, although neither of us knew it at the time.

I felt better once we landed and I was in the cab heading to the hotel.   The weather was ugly -- drizzly and hot and very humid, but weather never makes a huge difference to me.    It's the energy of the city, that particular informal, brash confidence that Chicago has no matter what the weather, that I admire.  This is a place where people are used to coping with months of those icy winds blowing in off Lake Michigan -- they're not about to be slowed down by a little late summer heat & rain.

Before I left home, I'd picked out the restaurant that I wanted to go to for dinner.   I've been to Bistro Zinc several times and only taken Lynn there once, but I've written letters to her there, written in my journal about her there, so I associate her with it even so.  It's the perfect type of a French bistro that I seek out in whatever city I find myself.

I get a table by the window and look out over the bustle of State Street.  I write for a bit, sip my wine, and feel myself relax.  I've brought along MFK Fisher's The Gastronomical Me to read while I eat -- what can be better than reading superb prose about great food while I'm sitting in a favorite restaurant having an excellent meal of my own!  It's almost as good as being with Lynn.

I call home as I walk back to the hotel.  "Did I have a good time?" Lynn laughs.  Oh yes, I say, and tell her what we had to eat.  I'm feeling much better now.  I'll read for a bit more before sleep, and in the morning I'll work for a few hours.  The magic of modern travel is that I can get just about as much done from my hotel room as I can from my office.  Then in the afternoon the board meeting starts and for the next two days I'll be too busy and occupied to miss her too much.    Come Saturday afternoon, when the meeting is done, I'll seek out a restaurant for lunch that I think she'd like.  I'll take out fountain pen and stationery to write her a letter.  Years from now, when I remember the afternoon, I'm sure I'll see her sitting right across from me.

It's Different Everywhere

"It never rains like this in the South."

Mom and I were driving from Delavan to Madison last week in the kind of gentle, even rain that I remember from growing up in Wisconsin.   We'd had a couple of beautiful days at the Lake Lawn Resort, with bright sun and temperatures getting up into the low eighties, so this cool rain was welcome on a day when we didn't expect to be outside much anyway.  The cornfields were thick and green and we took old narrow uncrowded highways so that we could enjoy the drive.

Turns out that it was moving-in day around the UW campus.  As we slowly made our way up University Avenue toward our hotel, the streets were lined on both sides with U-Haul vans and pickup trucks, with miserable looking students and even more miserable looking parents milling around trying to figure out how to get their keys and get their stuff up into their new apartments.  Decades earlier, my Mom and oldest sister might have been among that crowd.  Those were good memories for her, she said, but she was glad that she wasn't among them today.

We had a wonderful late lunch at the Orpheum Theater restaurant -- a perfectly done seafood linguine with a bottle of good New Zealand Pinot Noir.    The restaurant has been installed in the lobby of the grand old fashioned theater on State Street, where you eat surrounded by fading movie posters of the stars of yesteryear.    If I lived in Madison I'd have lunch there once a week.

The rain was tapering off when we got back to the car, and by the time we  stopped to visit with my niece Wendy the sun was coming out.  Back at the campus end of University, the U-Hauls had thinned out and it looked like most of the moving in was finished. 

Mom went to her room to take a nap and I settled in to do some preparation on the workshop I'd be doing the next morning for the crew at the Ebling Library at UW.    They're gearing up a strategic planning process and my task was to help stimulate some innovative and creative thinking that would get them into the mode of  looking afresh at the things they need to do to help their institution move forward.

I think the workshop went well.  Based on the quality of the discussion and the ideas that were flowing around the room, they're going to do a good job.  Frankly, I felt a little superfluous, but sometimes it's useful to have someone come in from the outside to tell you the things that you already know.  So if I was useful in that sense, it's a good thing.

It was a good trip all around.  I got to see most of my siblings and some nieces & nephews, relaxed a little, finished reading a bad novel, had some good long conversations with my Mom, and got a bit of decent work done.   And there was that cool rain.  Now I'm back in drought-stricken Alabama where it is already 80 degrees at 7 in the morning, and predicted to top 100 -- just like every day the past two weeks.  If we do get any rain it'll be one of those fierce, quick, local thundershowers that won't put a dent in the drought and won't last long enough to cool the air.   

But I'm a patient guy.  Another month and we'll start to see some of those glorious fall days.  And no doubt, come January, I'll find myself having lunch somewhere outside on one of those bright, unseasonably warm days that we always have a handful of just after the first of the year.  I'll look at the winter sunlight gleaming on the buildings and think, "We sure didn't have days like this when I was growing up in Wisconsin."

Some weeks are more interesting than others...

After a week on the other side of the Pacific, the Crown Room at Hartsfield's B Concourse feels foreign and exotic, despite the number of times I've been here before.  My internal clock reads about 1 in the morning, but I feel fine -- just eager for this last little hop back to Birmingham.  I'll stop at Marian's on the way home so I can give presents to the girls.

I was quite impressed by how seriously the librarians at Songnisan took their workshop assignment.  They were working in their groups until late in the evening planning, and then spent the first part of the morning laying everything out on the flip charts.  The assignment that I'd given them was to identify a particular target group at their institution, analyze their needs, and develop services that would require them to get out of the library and engage with that group in new and creative ways. 

All of the presentations were good, and each one had something special to recommend it.  When the presentations were all finished, Joep and Mr. Choi and I went out into the anteroom to compare notes and select our winners (there were cash prices for 1st, 2nd & 3rd place).  We went back in and I told them that I thought they were all great and I wished that I could bring them all back to America with me, because my colleagues there could learn a thing or two from them.  I meant every word.

I made brief comments on each of the presentations, highlighting the specific areas where I thought they'd particularly excelled and then I announced the awards, in reverse order.  There was much cheering and clapping and many pictures were taken.  Then lunch, and goodbyes, and we caught the bus back to Seoul.

There was one more meal to be had.  After saying goodbye to Julie at the hotel, Joep, Inn Beng and I checked into our rooms, and then we headed out to a Korean barbecue place for dinner.  There, we sat around a small round table with a recessed grill in the middle and ate beef with garlic and spices wrapped in lettuce leaves, along with various pickled and marinated vegetables, while we drank beer and soju and talked and laughed and pretended that we weren't all heading off in different directions the next day.

I said it when I started my presentations each day, and after this week I believe it more than ever -- what a fantastic time this is to be a librarian!


I don't usually spend the hour before I do a presentation strolling around a fifteen hundred year old temple complex, but I highly recommend it.  The Lake Hills Hotel (which has definitely seen better days) is just outside the gate of the Songnisan National Park, a stunning area of thickly forested mountains with dramatic rock outcrops jutting through the trees.  According to my Lonely Planet guide, the name means "Remote from the Ordinary World Mountain" and it is certainly remote from my ordinary world.

The temple complex, which is an easy ten minute walk from the hotel, is called Beopjusa.  At least one story goes that a Buddhist monk was on his way to India on pilgrimage, and at this spot his horse went lame, so he took that as a sign that he should stay and build a temple.  Portions of it have been burned and rebuilt a number of times over the centuries, and it continues to develop -- the very dramatic 30-meter high golden buddha statue on the grounds was just completed in 1990, for example.  But the statue stands next to Palsangjeon, the oldest five-story wooden pagoda in Korea, the original parts of which date back to the founding of the temple.

It was early when we were there, and except for a couple of attendants sweeping the porches of the pavilions, there was no one else around.  The weather was mild and humid, with a light fog at the tops of the mountain peaks.  A stream runs along the path from the town and cuts across the front gate of the temple, and one can look down at the small rock towers that the monks build as a meditative exercise.  On the way back, we passed a group of local women from the town, friends of the temple, who were out early, picking up bits of trash and fallen branches from the path, getting it all ready for the day's legion of tourists.

From there, we walked straight back into the conference room and the work of the day.  In Japan, I did one presentation in the morning, and the other after lunch.  Here, they were back to back.   In Japan, the translation was simultaneous, the team of translators hidden away in a booth, and I just had to be sure to speak slowly enough that they could keep up.  Here, it was alternate -- so I'd talk through the points of the slide while the translator made notes.  Then she'd repeat the substance of my comments to the group.  Fortunately, the translator, Soyeon Lee, is a professor of Library & Information Science at Duksung Women's University in Seoul, so she is very familiar with all of the concepts.  It took me awhile to fall into the right rhythm, but as my confidence in her grew during the course of the morning, I think I got the hang of it.  By the end -- three hours after I'd begun -- I felt that it had gone quite well.

The workshop attendees are eager for discussion, and they ask very long, multi-part questions.  We had time for a few before lunch, and then in the afternoon, after Joep finished up his part we had well over an hour of discussion, with questions for both of us.  It's an impressive group.  And just as in Japan, they face all of the same obstacles and challenges that we do in the states, but also as in Japan, I see the energy and intensity among some of these young librarians that convinces me they will overcome those obstacles.

I gave them a discussion assignment that they spent the evening working on.  Later this morning there'll be six group presentations.  Joep, Mr. Choi and I will be the judges and the winners get a cash award, so they're all taking this very seriously indeed.  I have high expectations for the quality of the presentations.

And then, this afternoon, the drive back to Seoul.  The sun is just now burning through the fog, so I think it'll be a pretty day and a nice afternoon for the drive...

The most exciting time

I start my presentations by saying that I believe that this is the most exciting time in at least 500 years to be a librarian.  Based on the people that I've met here, I'm not concerned about the future of librarianship in Japan.  The challenges are huge, of course, but they're not that different here from what they are in the states.  The opportunities are still great, but just as elsewhere it's going to take energy and creativity and the willingness to experiment to create the kind of future that we want to see.  But librarians like the young reference guy from Kyushu University that I met last night are going to make it happen.

The seminar in Kyoto went well.  A somewhat smaller group, and not as many questions after the presentations as in Tokyo (which, I understand, has been the pattern for these seminars in the past), but great conversations during the breaks and at the reception afterwards.  It's been an honor to be able to spend time with these people.

We went to the Yoshikawa Inn for dinner last night.  There were eight of us, off in a separate room, with an incredible garden just outside.  Once again, the food was amazing and beautifully presented.  Food for the eyes, indeed.  And the conversation was great, and there was much laughter, and wonderful stories told by all assembled.

Hard to believe that it's over so quickly.  But I'll come back -- and with Lynn & Marian & Josie as well.  For now, it's on to Korea....

Tokyo Seminar and on to Kyoto

It's a gray and drizzly morning in Kyoto, but I can see mountains in the distance.  By the time we got to the hotel last night, I was too tired to do anything but send a message to Lynn and tumble into bed.  Now I look out, from the 12th floor of my hotel, and see another vast city spread out below me.  A tree-lined boulevard down to my left, what appears to be a large park in the middle distance to my right; a jumble of office blocks and apartment buildings that could be anywhere, and a scattering of smaller buildings that couldn't be anywhere but Japan.

On the bullet train from Tokyo, Yuki was looking through the evaluations from the seminar.  "Here's one that says you were 'inspiring'." 

Good.  "Inspiring" is good.  I certainly can't tell anybody here how to overcome the obstacles that they face in their organizations -- all I can hope to do is share with them some of my own passion and enthusiasm and excitement about being a librarian in the 21st century, and hope it connects with, and reinforces, their own.

I'd been warned by my hosts that the Japanese librarians would be reserved and hesitant to ask questions, but I thought there were quite a few good ones.  Not much different from what I've seen in US or UK audiences.  And I had a chance to talk with a number of people during the breaks and at the reception in the evening.    I was particularly impressed with Mr. Iizawa, director of the Meiji University Library, who was also one of the presenters and appears to be doing great things with establishing partnerships with faculty to set up information literacy classes for the freshman & sophomores in his university.

As far as I know, the translation went fine.  I met with the translators ahead of time for about twenty minutes.  They had printouts of my slides, along with the detailed notes I'd sent a couple of weeks ago.  They had just a few specific questions about words or phrases, or what I was trying to get across with a particular image.  Afterwards, one of them came up and thanked me and said I'd made it very easy for them.  I was grateful for that.  I was surprised, though, how many people were not wearing the earphone while I was speaking (close to half?).  As far as I could tell from body language and facial expressions, at least some of what I was trying to say was coming through.

I was also quite delighted to meet Tamiko Matsumura, Emeritus Professor at the University of Library and Information Science and Professor at Sugiyama Jogakuen University.  Turns out that she was an indexer at NLM back in the late sixties and early seventies.  Ritsuko had arranged for her to have lunch with the speakers, and so we had a fine time sharing stories about some of the NLM people we knew in common.

The program today is an exact repeat of yesterday.  (I was joking with Joep that by the time we get to Korea, he and I will be able to do each other's presentations).  A somewhat smaller audience (there were just over one hundred in yesterday's session and there are 65 signed up for today).  Different set of translators.  And we don't have to dash for the bullet train at the end of it!


Eleven stories below my hotel window, the bullet trains glide in and out of Tokyo Station.  On the other side of the station is the Ginza, where I went strolling yesterday after I got checked into the Marunouchi Hotel.  I'd imagined the Ginza as one broad avenue, lined with pricey stores, neon displays blazing, and jostling throngs filling up the sidewalks.  It certainly is that, but it's also a warren of little side streets, barely wide enough for a car to bump alongside the pedestrians.  Along these streets are the little specialty shops, restaurants and tiny bars opening out onto the street.  I wandered aimlessly for an hour, not too worried about getting lost -- all I'd need is for someone to point me back in the direction of Tokyo Station, after all.

I'd slept about two hours on the plane, but that was about it in the last twenty-four hours, so my energy was flagging a bit, and I stopped into the Hills Bar for a drink.  They had two little tables outside, so I got a scotch and a glass of water and went to sit and watch and write.  There was a dress shop across the way, a grandmother and small child sitting in front of it, watching the street and waiting for mom to come out.  Many young couples out strolling, and the occasional black sedan slowly inching along with a couple of elderly ladies in the back, all dressed up and gazing impassively at the shops as they slid past.

The young bartender came out to join me.  He'd been to college in Seattle and we talked a bit about his days there and this being my first trip to Japan and the differences in the weather down in Alabama and other bits and pieces of small talk.

Back at the hotel, I had dinner in the French restaurant, curious about what a fancy French place in Tokyo would be like.  For my appetizer I ordered something that was translated as "just caught raw fish with shellfish and crustacean."  It turned out to be a bowl of various morsels of seafood in some kind of thick greenish broth topped with a lightly poached egg that had the reddest yolk I've ever seen.  Served cold, and with a variety of textures and tastes that puts it well in the running for the most unusual thing I've ever eaten -- certainly I've never seen anything like it in any other French restaurant!  Then onion soup and a rack of lamb -- these both much more familiar, although still with distinctive touches.  All of it quite delicious and marvelously presented.

Jet lag was finally catching up to me, however, so I skipped desserts or coffee and headed up to the room and to bed.  Nine hours of sleep and I woke to another gray, monsoonish Tokyo day.   This is the one day of my trip that I get to do some sightseeing, so one of my hosts is meeting me later this morning to take me around.  I have no idea what we're going to see.  I can't wait.