Never, Nunca, (副)決して; いまだに; 全く

Never is a word for young people. The word “never” is ridiculous and useless as one gets older. Anyone who uses the word in an absolute way, non-related to anything life-threatening, has consigned themselves to a life of inflexibility, restrictions and a certain smallness.

When I was younger, there were many things I swore I’d never do. Why? Because I had never done those things before, never tried them, and thus my list of nevers were easy to dismiss. Things I’d said I’d never do (in no particular order): eat raw fish, smoke, move to Asia, live in a shared house (again), have a one-night stand, wear pearls, tell people anything private about myself, date a guy who wears suits to work. The list of my nevers could’ve gone on and on (“’til the break of dawn”), as they changed with the years. I could’ve choked on my nevers.

One example: When I was a vegetarian, I despised pork more than any other meat. Why? 1) Because I think it’s a trend to hate pork 2) I had an extremely brief “I think I’m a Rasta” phase in 1999 3) Because I didn’t know then that my mind and will would be ever-evolving, flexible, and wholly subject to my desires.

Flash forward: A few days ago, B and I went to Hatos Bar in Naka-Meguro. B told me that, “Hatos is Southern Americana; an indulgent haven for pork lovers.” Hatos Bar seats only about fourteen people inside and four at an outside table. The first time I went with LD, as I’d reported in a previous post, we were offered a table outside. (It was freezing that day, so that was a no go). Paintings and other artwork cover Hatos’s walls, and its tables, chairs and bar area all have a rustic feel. The menus are slabs of board with food on one side and drinks on the other; the choices are few: pork belly, pork ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, mac and cheese, chili, french fries, chili fries, imported beers and other beverages. There are no greens on the menu, nothing that could be considered remotely healthy. (Ironically, enjoying a pork feast with no guilt is very “healthy” for me).

Over the weekend, we walked into the small space that smelled like slow-cooked ribs, family barbecues, and childhood summers. Unfortunately, when we tried to order the ribs, they were sold out; so, we ordered and shared everything else on the food side of the menu, except the chili. The pork belly (the first I’ve ever tried) was rubbed with spices, dribbled in bbq sauce, and served with a spicy potato salad.  (To think, I said I’d never…).

Here I sit in Asia, on a warm day, with many others who’re enjoying this blast of sunshine, on an outside step overlooking the water, reflecting on my pork never and so many nevers that came before. Nevers I need to explore. What else have I missed out on?




On Water and Belonging

All water has perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was. – Toni Morrison

1) When driving from Kingston to Montego Bay, for a long stretch there’s nothing but fields, hills and trees. Green, green, green everywhere. Then, there are towns: churches, bars, people, and stray dogs running or limping across the street. Flashes of white and brown. You wonder, “If this is a small island, where is the sea?” Then, as you drive along, suddenly, around a bend, an expanse of the deepest blue. The Caribbean Sea warm, glimmering and waiting.

2) My mother loves to tell me the story of when I was three on a drive to Negril how giddy and excited I was to see the sea around the bend. She claims that I insisted we pull over and get into the water. I think I remember this day, but I’m not sure if it’s an actual memory or just that I’ve heard this story about seventy times seventy.

The story rings true though, because a similar incident happened when my mother and I visited Delphi on vacation in 2005. We were driving along a never-ending road in Greece, and as we descended the hill, the most gorgeous sight greeted us– the Mediterranean Sea. There was an audible gasp in the tour bus. When the driver pulled over to an eatery by the side of the road, I immersed myself in the very cold water. My mother briefly dipped her feet in, and no one else joined us because we were all without bathing suits. How could I let something as inconsequential as the lack of a bathing suit leave me dry?

3) On Friday night, I met up with LD and his friend AW for dinner at Hatos in Naka-Meguro. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the restaurant was fully booked and had a ninety-minute wait, so barbecue ribs, cole slaw and mac and cheese weren’t to be had. The only available table was outside. The waitress offered us the use of a heat lamp that we could rest beside the table, but there were no heat lamps above the table; basically, our knees and legs would be nice and toasty, but the rest of our bodies would be subjected to thirty-six degree weather. In all seriousness, the guys looked at me and said “Let’s sit outside,” to which I responded “I’m from the islands, it’s not gonna happen.”  AW said I probably say that I’m from the islands when it’s convenient, but that I should open myself to new experiences, which made me think “Opening myself to new experiences is never a problem, but I’ve lived long enough to know what I can absolutely do without.” Being cold and enduring misery (voluntarily) is an experience I’ve had and one I can do without. They told me that though “I’m one of the guys,” I’m definitely “not one of the guys.”

One of the guys: Listening to their stories about an array of porn, sexual experiences, enjoying a good hook up story, thinking women can be a bit ridiculous at times.

Not One of the Guys: Being a ridiculous woman at times, complimenting a woman on her skirt and not because I’m desiring anything under the skirt, refusing to sit outside in the winter. I’m okay with all of that.

4) We wound up walking for a bit until we found Colosseo, an Italian restaurant near the train station. We sat there for close to five hours talking about expat life in Tokyo (they told me to give it two or three years before the shine wears off), eating four-cheese gnocchi, spare ribs cooked to perfection, fried fish and calamari, octopus salad drizzled in olive oil, and roast beef with slightly salted, roasted potatoes. We washed our bounteous feast down with bottle after bottle (and a few other bottles of wine– my wallet’s reeling a little from the night).

5) AW said something to me that I had to write down; you know when you’re tipsy everything seems profound, and then you read your notes when you’ve sobered up and realize that half the things you wrote down really need a drunken lens/gaze to make sense. However, this comment still hits me, “Valerie, your core values are based in Jamaica, but you don’t belong there or you’d still be there. You don’t belong in NY or you’d still be there.” Both he and LD made it clear that we’d also always be outsiders in Tokyo, that as much as I love it, it would never fully take me in.

I feel more comfortable, as an outsider, on this island nation than on the island of my birth (Manhattan) and the island of my childhood (Jamaica). This island or another… it’s all about finding my way.

I’m a fountain of blood in the shape of a girl… wet your beak in the stream. – Bjork (Bachelorette)