We're getting near the end of my book tour diary, and yes, a climax is near! Sunday, October 19 was my last full day in New York. I had an event that evening at Kinokuniya, my most literary and in a way most daunting, but I was determined to make the most of the rest of the day in Gotham City. My sister and I decided to take a nice long walk and we were up early before most of the shops opened, striding westward along Charles to the river. I picked up a latte along the way—my nod to Sunday as I was unable to enjoy my husband’s delicious French press coffee for almost a whole week.
The brisk “talking-walk” is a long family tradition and as my sister and I discussed the past week and strategies for getting Amorous Woman into the hands of more readers we managed to ambulate (how’s that for a fifty-cent word?) all the way around the bottom of Manhattan, passing Castle Clinton and the Staten Island Ferry terminal and South Street Seaport and heading up along the east side of the island. We probably walked for about two hours until the coffee insisted we get in a cab for home. It was a fresh, butterscotch-tinted morning and my cheeks were pleasantly flushed, my blood pumping with feel-good exercise chemicals.
My sister had some other visitors coming in to town, so I would be on my own for the rest of the day. I decided to have lunch at a soba restaurant on East 9th Street called, simply enough, “Sobaya” [The Soba Shop]. Hiro Sato had recommended this as one of the best noodle shops in the city and I knew to trust him on these things. I arrived on the early side, but the place was already busy with other in-the-know patrons. Hungry from the long walk, I decided to get one of the seasonal specials, “chirashi soba” [noodles with scattered goodies on top].
My jaw dropped when I saw the tray they delivered to my table. It was a veritable feast. Taking center stage was a large bowl of buckwheat noodles gussied up with tofu milk skins, vegetables, kamaboko [fish paste], rolled sweet omelet, spinach, wheat gluten dumplings, burdock root, and tempura with shrimp and vegetables. But that’s not all. Garnishes included a dish of inarizushi [vinegared rice in fried tofu skins] and a long narrow dish of relishes including boiled sweet potato, edamame pods and burdock in a sweet soy sauce.
The lunch was so lovely to look at in a hearty, country Japanese kind of way, that I hesitated to eat it and thought I might just take pictures. But soon enough the delicious aroma got to me and I put my chopsticks to work. Japanese food is supposed to be high on the looks and low on taste, but this tasted every bit as wonderful as the visuals. The noodles were obviously handmade with an al dente sturdiness and the broth was the darker soy version native to Tokyo. The complexity of the soup was very satisfying and I sipped it slowly. The inari had a delicate sweetness—much of the sushi you get here is too sweet and overbearing, but this was perfect. The garnishes were perfect complementary bites of goodness and I took my time nibbling this, slurping a bit of soup, savoring the sushi. The lunch was the perfect way to warm up on a chilly autumn day and I’d say Sobaya is well worth the visit for distinctive, high quality food that lives up to the best Japan itself could offer.
Another treat on menu for the day was a museum. Since I usually hit the big tourist spots when I come to the city with my family, I went for a low-key historical experience (the kind of place my kids would endure because they like my cookies), the Merchant’s House Museum, which was said to be a time capsule of New York life in the 1850s. The museum was once the home of Seabury Tredwell, a well-to-do importer of hardware and other useful metal objects, and was built back in 1832 when the tony addresses in New York went as far uptown as East 4th Street. After Tredwell died, his now-less-affluent wife and daughters continued to live there and the youngest daughter never married, ending her days in the 1930s when the neighborhood had long ceased to be fashionable. Her diminishing purse had one advantage—the furnishings and condition of the house remained much the same and her executor had the good sense to immediately convert it to a museum.
I really loved this museum and no doubt the experience was enhanced for me in that I could take my time on the self-guided tour, without kids to hurry me along. It had been decorated for Halloween along the theme of Tredwell’s funeral, with a black wreath on the door, his wax body lying in state in the parlor, pictures draped in black crepe, and the dining room prepared with funeral cakes for guests who’d come to pay their respects.
Upstairs I got to see the bed where Tredwell and his daughter breathed their last and learned many things about the daily lives of New Yorkers in the 19th century involving homely details like chamberpots and chambermaids (the latter of whom which will figure in my next novel). The drapery on the bed was not the original, but it was made from cloth discovered in the attic, which was well over 100 years old. I’d recommend this museum for a much quieter peek into New York’s historical treasures than some of the mobbed uptown museums.
On my way back to my sister’s to prepare for my last presentation, I decided to stop by Batch bakery, which Rachel Kramer Bussel had recommended as having her favorite cupcakes in the city. It was hard to decide among the chocolate cupcake with green tea filling, the lemon yuzu, the carrot cake with salted caramel….well, all of them looked tempting, but again I went seasonal with the pumpkin maple rum cupcake. I carried it over to my sister’s and sat down to snack and write my talk. As my blurb for Kinokuniya was definitely more literary, I decided to read a section of the original Life of an Amorous Woman and then read the section from my novel that was directly inspired by that snippet to show exactly how I “translated” the original. I chose a section from chapter 3 where Lydia is deciding how she can get the attention of an older Japanese dentist, comparing this to Ihara Saikaku’s heroine’s description of her flirtation techniques.
But first, another break for food porn. The Batch pumpkin cupcake was truly exquisite—trust Hiro for soba, Rachel for cupcakes, you can’t go wrong! The cake was very rich and moist, an explosion of pumpkin and spice. The frosting was not overwhelming in quantity, but had an intense browned butter flavor (yes, Kirsten, you know how much that excites me!) with flecks of freshly ground spice. All Batch cupcakes have a hidden surprise and beneath the sliced top was a layer of rum and fresh pineapple filling. The cupcake was most evocative of pumpkin pie—except it was better than any pumpkin pie I’ve ever eaten (except maybe the French pumpkin tart at The Butler and the Chef Bistro I shared with Sage Vivant, but that’s another story).
After showering and donning my “professional” outfit, which was becoming a familiar ritual, I hit the street for another walk up Sixth Avenue to 40th Street. I found that walking calmed me before an event and it was also my last chance to enjoy my favorite time of day and season in New York—an autumn dusk. I just love that hour of change (between the dog and the wolf?) when the air thickens and goes grayer with each moment and the neon glows bravely. It helped keep my mind off of my presentation. I like readings, but in the hour or so before I always wonder what the hell possessed me to sign up for making a fool of myself! And Kinokuniya was definitely a special challenge.
Kinokuniya Bookstore and I go way back. I’d often patronized the much smaller older store during the summer I spent living in Manhattan, saving up for my first trip to Japan in 1983. That’s where I bought my guidebooks, the trusty Lonely Planet guide which talked about orgasmic Japanese women, and my Japanese novels in translation. In Japan, Kinokuniya was a key resource for English language books and a favorite place to meet friends at Umeda Station in Osaka. And in fact Yuji and Lydia in my novel live very near Kinokuniya, at least in my mind’s eye. I still go to the San Francisco branch several times a year and the thought of my novel taking its place on the shelves of this bookstore was a long-cherished dream. But I never dreamed I’d actually do a reading there and I probably wouldn’t have but for Sato-Sensei’s intercession and assurance that I was a scholar and a gentleman who just happened to wander into Saikaku-esque racy territory all the while maintaining a dignified literary poise.
The lovely new store definitely did the job right in terms of readings—I’m definitely appreciating these things from a new perspective. A generous display of my novel along with Hiro’s new book, Japanese Women Poets, graced the reading area, and Sharon Cunningham, the events coordinator was positively charming and professional throughout. (She even bought one of my books—now that’s the way to treat an author!) The audience was about fifteen or so people. My sister and some of her friends, some of Hiro’s friends and a handful of strangers, and not least at all, EllaRegina and Martha Garvey who came to lend me their very welcome support. I hereby award EllaRegina the official Amorous Woman Real Trooper Award for attending the highest percentage of my AW readings of anyone, including my husband! (ER, it's your very own black bra and panty set, just like the lady on the cover of my book : -).
Hiro began with a gracious introduction and a reading from his book Erotic Haiku, which is out of print and sells for a dear price on Amazon, fittingly so because it is racy! Then I did my comparative reading of the two Amorous Women and then we both took questions from the audience—which were very literary in keeping with the setting. Afterwards we both signed some books and chatted with the audience. I got to talk with Martha and say good-bye to EllaRegina, who’d been a key player at so many of the high points of my book tour. (For regular readers of my book tour diary, she seemed to have survived the spanking party with nary a problem sitting down for the reading….)
The evening concluded with dinner at Hiro’s, a Japanese-style home-cooked meal of fish, rice, miso soup and side dishes at his apartment. I got to meet his wife, Nancy, who showed Natsuki (Hiro’s assistant who’d joined us at the restaurant on Tuesday) and I the view from the roof of their apartment building.
The sight truly took my breath away--all of New York spread out at my feet in a tapestry of neon splendor. It occurred to me then that I’d dreamed of being a published writer since I was in grade school, dreamed vaguely of some sort of official acclaim, which later came into slightly less hazy focus as involving the New York publishing world bowing—or at least nodding briefly—to my literary talent.
Reality usually takes a different form than our dreams and fantasies, but sometimes the real experience trumps the fantasy in small and subtle ways that pack a powerful punch. Gazing out over this gorgeous view, reveling in the fact that I had done so much for my book all by myself, it didn’t matter that my book was not on the New York Times bestseller list or that I was not courted by The New Yorker. New York was still bestowing her glamorous reward—far more beautiful than any uptown gathering of literary movers and shakers--for taking the initiative and believing in myself. And that, dear readers, is the most satisfying acclaim there could be.
Next: A sweet farewell....