“I stuffed my skull with poems’ invisible syllables” – Annie Dillard

2 Jan

My plans for New Years Eve included ice-skating at an outside rink in downtown Buffalo, the Rotary Rink. I love ice-skating—everything about it. I love the sound of blades on ice, the scratching noises, being cold, and especially what it feels like to glide. This is corny, I know, but it feels like I’m flying. I used to take figure skating lessons when I was a kid. I learned to twirl and do little jumps, and every time I passed a level I got a little badge. The lessons lasted about a year before I quit for some reason I cannot remember. Now, when I step out onto the ice, I get the same feeling I used to, but my body forgets how to spin itself, my feet forgot how to stop and my legs get tired. But then, slowly, it remembers. I feel it slipping back into me with each circle I make around the rink.

Blast the weather. It rained—slushy, freezing, I want to be anywhere but outside, rain. An executive decision was made, and ice-skating got cancelled.

I did go out for Japanese food, though. It didn’t compare with ice-skating, of course, but it was interesting. During the course of the meal, I ate sushi for the first time. “Sushi” the very word itself sounds adventurous, doesn’t it? If you go out for sushi you’re some young, hip, exotic, forward thinking kind of person. Exactly the kind of person I am….not. A whole plate of it came out for the appetizer. They looked like little sculptures, too intricate and delicate to possibly consume. I picked the least intimidating one, which was small and round and almost innocent looking. It was raw fish (yes raw, ick), wrapped in sea weed and then rolled in rice. The other sushi on the dish looked spiky, weirder and fiercer than the one I chose. I looked at it on my plate. Against the wishes of someone at the table I did not put the whole thing into my mouth. I made the sensible decision to cut it in half. I plunged my fork into its mushy center and lifted it to my mouth, hesitating for a moment before going where I had never dared go before—SUSHI.

 “Don’t fight the flavor,” someone said. “Let it be.”

 I wasn’t sure what she was talking about.

Then, I knew.

What might happen? Would I break out in hives, drop over dead, giggle for the sheer wonderfulness of it? I chewed, first, sensing the layers of texture, which wasn’t entirely unpleasant. Then came the flavor, followed by a sudden gagging reflex. I overcame the reflex and continued chewing, stunned by the differentness of it. It was spicy and fishy—powerful—and unlike anything I’d every tasted before. Finally, I swallowed. I cannot say I disliked it. Yet I didn’t eat the other half, nor did I try anything else on the appetizer plate. The powerful differentness of it aroused in me a sort of wonder at how completely different the eastern palate must be. Maybe that’s how a Japanese person feels eating a hamburger for the first time?

After the sushi there was a show, right in front of us, right in the middle of our seats shaped in a box. The show involved flaming fire, which might sound redundant until you see fire flare up right in front of your face and you can only describe it by saying “Flaming!” flashing, glittering knives, which smacked and tinkered and twirled on every surface so that the chef performed a sort of musical drum set slash baton performance, and a cart of food from which the Japanese chef prepared our meal—right in front of us—on a flat, sizzling surface. First he cooked the rice, then the noodles, then the best two shrimp I’ve ever tasted, followed by the steak chicken and fish, and finally, the vegetables; after each, he placed the steaming food straight from the sizzling surface onto our waiting plates.

I walked out the restaurant dazzled, but not converted. Everyone should eat sushi one time and watch a Japanese chef make food right in front of you. To miss out on this experience would be sad, like never tasting a sour patch kid. But would I go there again? Probably not. I’d rather pay to see another show, and save on the food.

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