Saturday, April 09, 2005

Sayonnara Sensei

Just got home from Sensei's sendoff. It's been a long day, and there were some unexpected developments...

My boss called just before I was leaving to tell me we may have a security breach at work. Can't give a lot of details at the moment, but suffice it to say that if that is indeed the case, we are in some serious trouble. He asked that I provide him with a report with certain information and to review some particular policies and procedures by EOB today - well, by the end of the day, today is Saturday.

I spent some time querying the DB to check some things out and as a result didn't have time to stop and get some irises for Ichiko-san, the hostess of our little get-together. Damn.

When I got there, only a few people had arrived, including Sensei, Sumiko and Tomiko. I was surprised to see a large bandage on Sensei's neck. Apparently she had some out-patient surgery this week to remove 3 "lumps" from the right side of her neck. I'm not sure if it was the bandage or if she was in some pain, but she moved as if she had a stiff neck. I think they are sending the tissue to be analysed. I'll have to ask Melissa for more details.

Ichiko's house is quite lovely. She has a number of very nice rugs from Turkey, India and Iran, and she seems to be quite the china collector and has a lovely butsudan (shrine) in an adjoining room. It was all-ladies this time; her husband went out to get a haircut this morning and she told him not to come back until the party was over. I guess it's like that after you've been married for 30-odd years.

There was food in abundance. When I arrived Ichiko was cooking a chicken and sesame dish and had a myriad of side dishes, including one that I think was burdock with sesame seeds. There was a clear broth containing vegetables and a couple of peppery green leaves whose stems were tied in a knot - whimsical AND delicious. Melissa brought a green salad with pecans and Mandarin oranges, some baked mushrooms avec frommage and some chocolate cookies. Of course there was the obligatory green tea and sake. Afterwards there were little creme brulees in tiny cups with a tear-off top, a strange mochi pie with black bean paste whose rubbery texture almost prevented me from putting a fork through it and a couple of different types of cake and of course, coffee, from which I abstained.

After the meal, everyone sat in a circle and Sensei stood and addressed us, mostly in Japanese. Since my Japanese is still so very sketchy, I could only pick up every 5th word or so: "here", "there:, "go", "thank you", "don't worry", etc... Then she gave everyone a flat square box with their name on it, with the honorific "sama". You attach "sama" to the end of someone's name who is loftily above you in stature as a sign of respect. So mine was addressed "Carmen-sama", which embarassed the hell out of me...I'm no "sama" to Sensei!! I think everyone mistook my confusion at being addressed this way for not knowing what "sama" means, because then 3 people immediately tried to explain it to me. I get that a lot. When I ask questions re: tea protocol I get the kindergarten explanation, when I'm asking college-level questions. I'm pretty damn ignorant, but not completely ignorant! At any rate, it was an interesting gesture by Sensei, as if to say, as a teacher, she had learned as much from us, her students, as we have learned from her.

At any rate, in the box was a beautiful kobukusa, which is a small square of silk brocade cloth one uses to hold a hot chawan (tea bowl). I could tell right away that it was special. It has a Chinese phoenix and cloud pattern, the preferred pattern of Shoshitsu Sen XV Hounsai, the 15th Grand Master of the Urasenke school of tea, who is like a rock star in the tea world. Only it wasn't purple. Instead it's a pale spring green, so very lovely! Everyone got a different pattern. As we all went around the room comparing and contrasting, I got raised eyebrows and significant looks - like somehow I had been singled out. All of the kobuksa were lovely, and it was interesting to finally see some real-life examples of patterns I've only seen online. But I can't help thinking mine is special - because it is.

We then presented Sensei with the Roseville bowl. I think she really liked it. I was nervous that those who had to pony up their share of the cost of the bowl but had not yet seen it might think it wasn't worth it. But Sensei seemed to like it and everyone handed it around and made much ado over it. Then those of us who had other gifts for Sensei presented them to her. She liked the shobu (iris) pattern of the sashiko pillow and everyone was either impressed or shocked that I really made it. "You made it? Honto???" Melissa brought a little corsage with 3 pale green orchids attached to lavender ribbons, which matched Sensei's twinset perfectly and I think made her feel special. Rhonda's father is a woodworker and she had him copy a chabako (portable tea box) she brought back from her year in Kyoto. Sensei is the now the proud owner of what may well be the world's only mesquite-wood chabako - very cool.

Anyway, it was nice sitting and chatting with everyone without the pressure of having to "perform" a tea ceremony. I had to leave around 5 and drive up to work to do the aforementioned reports and didn't get back home until 8:30 or so. All in all it was a nice day, the frightening scenarios notwithstanding. Still, it's left me a bit melancholy. I hope Sensei's neck heals and there are no "complications" with it, and that her move to Detroit is smooth and uneventful. We are to meet at Sumiko's house in early May for ochakai (tea party), but it won't be the same without the lady who's been so wonderful and kind to me, and with whom it has been my honor and pleasure to learn chanoyu.


Blogger taj said...

Please to post picture of Sensei! It would be fabulous if you had a pic up for each of these postings, especially this one and the ones about kimono.

April 18, 2005 12:33 PM  

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