Monday, October 3, 2022

Drought in Kenya

Annamaria on Monday



As October begins, I find myself saying silent prayers for rain. I am not alone in this. In Kenya, the current drought has lasted for three years. The situation is dire, to say the least.

The local climate in Equatorial Africa has, normally, two alternating seasons dry and wet. The rains are supposed to come between March and early May (long rains) and in October (short rains).

After 36 months with nothing but a few very isolated and brief downpours, here is how the Kenyan government assesses the situation in Samburu County, the home of my friend Sarah and the girls she is saving from FGM and forced early marriage:

  • County remained predominantly dry with high temperatures.
  • Pasture remained depleted with browse conditions being poor across the zone. Most of the open surface water sources remain dry and boreholes yield is low due to high abstraction rates.
  • Livestock body condition remained very poor to poor across all the livestock species.
  • Trekking distances for households and livestock increased further due to shortage of water.
  • Livestock are still in dry grazing areas with over 80% of cattle still grazing outside the county. Consequently, resource-based conflicts escalate among herders.
  • Livestock selling prices are below the average. Staple food commodities such as cereals increase due to shortage.
  • The prevalence of malnutrition rates of children below five years based on family MUAC continued to worsen across the county.

The life-threatening nature of these difficulties is such that it intensifies the already difficult challenges of many people's lives.  Their animals are their main, sometimes their only source of food.  The drought is killing their cows and goats.  The animals still left are targets for raiding parties by starving men nearby.
 


Food scarcity affects children more intensely than adults.  Hungry children can't study and learn well.  When their families move to new territory to try to find food they're often taken out of school.  Sometimes, the men take the animals and leave the women and children behind to become the targets of bandits.

The prevailing culture already treats women as second-class citizens.  Under the prevailing culture, men become angered by the lack of food and their rivalry with others competing nearly nonexistent  resources. They take our their frustration on women. This is so prevalent that there is a phrase to refer to it: "drought-instigated violence."


Women, who do all the water carrying, have to walk long distances to find what little there is.  They are likely to be attacked and molested.

Girls ten to thirteen are always in danger of being sold into marriage.  Under these drought conditions, they are even more likely to be traded for animals or food.

I have come to first-hand knowledge of these conditions through my connection with the Sidai Resource Centre in Samburu in Kenya, which is a hostel for girls who have refused FGM and forced marriage.  I am happy to say that even with the higher food prices and the other challenges of this miserable drought period, the girls are safe, fed, and attending school.  And six new girls have been left at Sidai while their families have gone to higher ground where they hope to find better grazing.  These newcomers are finishing the school semester and will be able to take their end of year exams that will qualify them to go on with their education.

Now October is here.  I ask you to join me in my hope that the October rains will come and alleviate the suffering.     

Sunday, October 2, 2022

People You Hate on Planes

Zoë Sharp

 

I am just back from my first post-pandemic trip overseas (about which I will tell you next time). Meanwhile, it seems that some things never change, so I’m taking the liberty of reposting this blog on things that may irritate you in the air, which I originally wrote back in 2017.



I can still remember the first time I ever flew on a commercial jet, as a fairly small child going to Malta on a family holiday. It was a huge adventure, including being allowed to traipse up to peer inside the cockpit and watch the flight crew at work.

 

I remember sitting in the exit row, and being asked to change seats with my parents because we were about to make an emergency landing and I could barely reach the door release, let alone be expected to operate it. After that, I assumed that all flights were greeted by a cavalcade of fire engines and ambulances lining both sides of the runway.

 

Ah, what balmy carefree days they were, when you could carry just about anything onto a plane, and pre-flight security was all but non-existent.

 

These days, flying is a means-to-an-end endurance test rather than a pleasure in itself, even in the comfy seats. Long lines and partial disrobing to get through the metal detectors and body scanners and X-ray machines, liquids in dollhouse-sized bottles, all electronic items unpacked and laid out for inspection.

 

Hey, we all have to do it, so the guy who’s in a bad mood or the one who thinks he deserves different treatment because he’s some kind of big shot in vending machine sales make me grit my teeth a little. Not too much, I admit, because it’s all fascinating research for the next time I have to write a pompous arse.

 

But once I’m on board a plane I tend to shut up, sit down and try not to annoy the staff, and I expect those around me to do the same. Various travel companies have done surveys of travellers’ worst nightmares, and the results seem to tally.

 

The Drunk

Now that airlines can refuse to allow passengers to board if they’re utterly plastered, this isn’t quite the problem that it used to be, but it does still crop up. I’ve flown on the same flight with people who’d clearly started on the spirits before 8am and continued until their destination, and by the end of it they were not pleasant company. I was also once on the same flight back from Dublin as a stag party, all of whom were so drunk they carried on staggering up and down the aisle during both take-off and landing, and then started a fight in the baggage hall. Joyous.

 

The Man-spreader

Now that ‘man-spreading’ has become a recognised vice, it seems to have expanded from the subway train seat to the airline seat as well. This is the guy who hogs the armrest, and overflows his tray table with laptop, iPad, etc. Sometimes it seems to be the most average-sized people who take up the most space. Heaven help you if you’re on a long flight in the centre of a row of three, with one such example on either side of you. Especially if one of them then goes to sleep with his head on your shoulder.

 

The Skunk

Bad breath or body odour is not nice if you have to stand behind someone in a queue for the supermarket checkout or bank teller. Being stuck alongside them on a nine-hour transatlantic flight is my idea of hell. As are those people who take their shoes and socks off and stick their feet between the seats of the row in front. Especially disgusting if they’ve been to the loo. You really don’t want to venture into an airplane lavatory without a stout pair of galoshes, or a pair of those disposable crime-scene bootees. Some people have so little sense of co-ordination that I’m amazed they’re able to dress themselves in the morning.

 

The Screamer

I know most babies only have one way to let their parents know they’re unhappy, and that’s to shriek, but once they get a little older, they should know it’s not acceptable behaviour – and so should their parents. And if they’re going to rely on an iPad or other device to play the electronic pacifier, a set of headphones would be a REALLY good idea. The tweedly noise made by a lot of those games is EXACTLY the type of sound used to torture detainees at certain government black sites. And it’s very effective …

 

The Loudmouth

A type I’ve occasionally had the misfortune to sit adjacent to on planes, but more often encountered on trains. The people who cannot have a conversation with their neighbour without projecting at such volume that half the cabin gets to listen in, too. Whether they like it or not. The trouble is, there is usually a direct correlation between how loud they are and how deadly dull their conversation is. Either that, or they voice views that make you want to punch them repeatedly in the mouth.

 

A variation on the Loudmouth is when they sit next to you and want to engage you in conversation for the duration of the journey. Or rather, they want to talk AT you for the duration. I once had a guy on a transatlantic flight who wanted to show me videos of the bottling machinery he’d just installed in a factory somewhere. I’m sure it was fascinating… just not to me.

 

The Nervous Flyer

The one who gasps at every shudder of the airframe, knuckles turning white on the armrest. Or, if you’re really unlucky, clutching your fingers. I’ve even had people holding hands across the aisle and praying loudly. And that was during take-off, never mind mid-air turbulence …

 

The Fidgets

This includes the window-seat passenger with the weak bladder, the one who put their bag in the overhead bin directly above your seat and wants something out of it every five minutes, and the one sitting behind you who can’t get out of their seat without heaving themselves up by clinging to your headrest every time. And the seat-kickers, of course. I recall being on a Boeing 777 flight that had touchscreens in the headrests. The person behind me was playing some kind of digital game for the entire flight that involved constantly tapping at the screen.

 

These days, of course, we can add to our list:


The Cougher 

The Cougher refuses to wear a mask, on the grounds that it’s all over now anyway. He – or She, for that matter – constantly coughs all over his/her hands, and does not appear to own a handkerchief. The Cougher then proceeds to finger his way through all the reading material in the seat pocket, so that you can almost see the trail of germs left behind.

 

And as I discovered on my recent return flight, the crew of that particular airline is given just eight minutes to clean up between turfing out one lot of passengers and the next lot beginning to board. I’m guessing those safety cards they tell you to take out and study do not get much of a wipe down… 

 

I’m sure there are plenty of others I’ve missed, but what’s your idea of the fellow passenger from hell?

 

This week’s Word of the Week is talion, from the Latin talio, and meaning retaliation. The principle that the punishment should be the equivalent or identical to the crime – so, the death penalty for murder. The imposition of that punishment. Hence the Latin lex talionis meaning an eye for an eye.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Thank You Once Again, Reader's Digest Select Editions

 


Jeff–Saturday

 

A little over a year ago I had the distinct honor of announcing that my eleventh Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novel—A Deadly Twist—had been selected by Reader’s Digest to be one of four novels included in its January 2022 bi-monthly volume of Select Elections (#383)—published from 1950 until 1997 under the name “Condensed Books.”

 

As I wrote back then, that might not seem a big deal to many, but to this kid who grew up in working class Pittsburgh, where there was always a Reader’s Digest magazine to be found lying somewhere around the house, and most assuredly in every doctor’s and dentist’s office, that was a bigtime bucket-list achievement moment.

 

The big kahuna for Reader’s Digest fans was the hardcover “Reader’s Digest Condensed Books,” and whenever I saw one of those, the authors whose names appeared on the binding appeared like gods to me. To learn that my name would be on the cover of a Select Edition had me feeling as if my game jersey was about to hang in the rafters alongside some of my writing idols.

 

At that moment I felt as if I’d won an Oscar.

 

I later learned that Reader’s Digest would also publish A Deadly Twist in Australia/New Zealand and in Finland!  Both major pinch myself moments.

 

But wait, there’s more.  

 

My publisher has informed me that my latest book in the series, One Last Chance (#12), will also be published by Reader’s Digest Select Editions!

 


I’m beyond excited, and well into the realm of tingling all over.

 

Thank you, Poisoned Pen Press, Sourcebooks, and RDSE, for making childhood dreams come true.

 

Καλο Μινα, y’all.

 

–Jeff

 

Jeff’s upcoming events

 

Friday, November 18, 2002 @11am

ICELAND NOIR

Reykjavik, Iceland

Where is My Mind? Madness and Obsession
AUTHORS:  Louise Mangos, Paul Cleave, Jeff Siger, Thomas Fecchio
MODERATOR: Ewa Sherman

Friday, September 30, 2022

The Bucket List Strike 1

I ticked something off my bucket list on my recent trip to the US.

In my head, a pretty weird place at the best of times, this is how the trip would go.

We would get dressed up in warm clothes, take anti sea sickness meds and get onboard a small ferry and that would leave the civilisation of the east coast and bounce its way to an island. The weather would be dark, grey, stormy, wet, windy. The ferry would give the day trippers  sou'westers and water proofs. The island would be a barren land of rocks, hardy grass and shale. There'd be the odd historical sign of habitation, a whaling museum  and a cafe that specialised in soup to ward off hypothermia. 

This is what the island looked like.
















Yes, it was Nantucket. I might have been thinking about Greenland or Kirkwall. 

So here's some facts. It was very warm and sunny. It's 100 square miles, 30 feet above sea level and has a lot of fog! The population of  14,255 quadruples in summer. Health insurance is expensive and the pavements are very dangerous.

It lies 30 miles south from Cape Cod. It's very pretty.

The average sale price for a single-family home was $2.3 million in the first quarter of 2018 according to Wikipeadia. We looked in the windows of the estate agents and the property was eye wateringly expensive.

"The Little Grey Lady of the Sea" is the most common nickname for the island.  Referring to the appearance of the island through the ocean fog.

Today it’s a rather arty, designer place. The local woman seem to weigh about two stone, and have a lot of exquisite, expensive  jewellery.

It’s a wealthy place now but in the past, it has had  hard times. There was a fire in 1846 that burned much of the island, causing a fair amount of the population to leave. Dry tinder and whale oil fed the flames. The whaling industry was in decline, whaling ships now needed deep water ports like New Bedford. The railway was making transport from land ports easier. And then, the Confederates destroyed most of the whaling ships in the American Civil War.

In the 1950s, property developers decided to lay the foundations for an upmarket area for the wealthy and started to buy up land. The rest is history.

Nantucket appears in a lot of books, over thirty different novels or series of novels, most famously Elin Hilderbrand's novels and in Moby Dick, Ishmael starts his journey at Nantucket

Nantucket waters have seen their share of maritime and aeronautical disasters. The ocean liner RMS Olympic ran into the Nantucket Lightship, four out of the eleven crew survived. In 1956, in heavy fog, the Andrea Doria ran into the MS Stockholm. Fifty one souls were lost. Two years later, Northeast Airlines Flight 258 lost height while on the approach to the airport, twenty five of the thirty four aboard were killed. Then in 1976, oil tanker Argo Merchant hit ground thirty miles south of Nantucket and when she broke up six days later she  discharged a massive oil  cargo- one of the largest spillages in history. Then in 1999, an Egypt air flight from New York City, crashed south of Nantucket, killing all two hundred passengers and crew.

As I've said, the fog in the area is legendary and deadly

Maybe mostly I think of Nantucket because of its fabulous poetry.

There was a young man from Nantucket….


Caro ( back on a windy, wet island!)

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Seeing is...

 Michael – Thursday

It’s been quite few years since you could unequivocally add “believing” at the end of that phrase. About ten years ago when I was still teaching image processing at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, I had a number of students who did projects on how to identify fake images i.e. images that had been doctored so that they would show something that never actually happened. There was a small but developing discipline called image forensics to try to separate the true from the fake.


Teddy bears working on new AI research underwater with 1990s technology

Some of those fake images were ridiculously crude. A Chinese newspaper ran a picture showing a local dignitary opening a new road, but the dignitary’s feet missed the surface of the road by several inches. Two political leaders who had never met shook hands, yet they cast shadows in different directions.



Even as more sophisticated image-merging techniques were developed, it was possible to determine with a pretty high level of certainty that the images had been tampered with. Basically, when images are doctored, fingerprints remain. When the images come from different sources, the cameras may leave evidence. When two images are merged, their relative compression may well be different.

However, all this is predicated on your starting with an image and then doctoring it. What if you create the whole image from scratch? One’s first reaction is that it will be obvious that it’s not a photograph. Well, that’s true if a human draws it, but how about a computer? The images in this blog were created by OpenAI’s DALL-E software. Do you still think that? You don’t have to draw anything for the software, just tell it want you want…


Girl with pearl earring in her kitchen

Since the software was released about six months ago, over one million users are generating millions of images every day. So seeing is no longer believing. Basically every image has to be treated as potentially fake.

That’s not quite true, at least for DALL-E. You can’t ask the software to produce a picture of President Biden doing something or other, pictures of politicians and celebrities are banned. The reality however, is that what OpenAI can do other deep-learning software companies (and government agencies) will learn to do also. And DALL-E now allows one to upload images and use them as a model. The problem is that it may not recognize that the picture is in fact of one of the celebrities and politicians that it’s supposed to avoid.



How about a “photograph” of the murderer somewhere completely different at the time of the murder? It's possible for OpenAI to embed an invisible code in its images that it could subsequently read and use to provide data about when the image was created and by what version of the software. OpenAI doesn’t say whether it does that or not. But, in any case, the comments in the previous paragraph apply.

If these public-domain images don't convince you, take a look at the ones the Washington Post whipped up in their article particularly the demonstration outside the capitol.

Welcome to the world of seeing is not believing…

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

THE FETUS AS A PERSON--Why the fetal heartbeat at 6 weeks is a misguided construct

 



The fetus as a person: the political hot potato

Powered by the momentum of the Dobbs decision and the Roe v. Wade reversal, anti-choice activists have been moving forward in the direction they have wanted for decades. In a move to criminalize abortion and hold an abortion-performing provider liable for felony charges, the pro-life movement wants to give the fetus equal protection as a person under the 14th Amendment. The possible prosecution of an abortion doctor has already become reality. Not long after the ruling, the attorney general of Indiana vowed to investigate the physician who carried out the termination procedure on a ten-year-old-girl victim of rape.

The so-called fetal heartbeat
At the center of much of the discussion around abortion is the presence or absence of a fetal heartbeat at approximately six weeks, hence the drafting of “six-week abortion bans.” The heart, which supplies itself and all the other organs with blood, is essential to life, and in many cultures, the heart is the physical representation of emotions such as love and hate.

The heart’s elevated status in our minds gives the fetal heartbeat special significance, but while some people might picture a heart-shaped organ beating inside the six-week-old fetus, this is not the case. At that early stage, the nascent heart is only a specialized cluster of cells with the unique ability to emit regular electrical impulses like a pacemaker. These fluttery impulses are what an ultrasound detects as “beats,” but, in fact, the embryonic heart is not physically beating in the conventional sense. These unique, embryonic cells, which can perform the same fluttering function either inside or outside the fetus, still have another four to six weeks to develop into a working, four-chambered heart. If you’ve never seen the ultrasound (sonogram) 6-week fetal heart, here is fine example from Missouri Fertility:

The fetal brain v the fetal heartbeat
But the fetal organ that should arouse just as much passion as the heart is the brain, which will eventually control thought, emotion, memory, touch, motor skills, vision, and a myriad of other functions. The only organ that can’t be transplanted (so far), the human brain is largely responsible for our personalities, and has much more to do with the fetus as a person than the heart does. An examination of the stages of fetal brain development is more instructive and more useful in the fetal person debate.

Just as the heart begins as a specialized group of cells, the embryonic brain is only a neural plate by the fourth pregnancy week. In the sixth to seventh weeks, the neural plate folds to form the neural tube, which is the earliest nervous system tissue. The head portion becomes the rudimentary brain, which subdivides into the fore, mid, and hindbrain. At that point, new nerve cells are being produced at a rapid rate.

Diagram of development of neural tube
Neural Tube Formation (Adapted Shutterstock)


As early as the 9th week of gestation, the fetus is able to move the head, trunk, and extremities spontaneously. But from this period up to birth, the forebrain is relatively underdeveloped, and in utero fetal movements are largely due to reflexive activity in the part of the hindbrain called the brainstem. Such fetal movements can occur even in the absence of forebrain-initiated cognition such as reasoning or understanding. The “smiling” we sometimes see in a neonate is more of a brainstem-mediated phenomenon than a reflection of true emotion, given that anencephalic neonates without a forebrain can also display such behaviors. By the 36th to 38th week of gestation, the fetal brainstem will respond to external sounds like the mother’s voice, thus triggering reflexive body movements.

Diagram of fetal to adult brain development
Human brain development inside and outside the mother (From EHP https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/full/10.1289/EHP2268)


The importance of the forebrain can’t be emphasized enough. This is the headquarters of emotions such as anger, pleasure, fear, joyfulness, and the desire for social interaction—the phenomena that make us human. The forebrain doesn’t begin to functionally mature until near term. Before, at, or after birth, injury to the frontal lobes may have profound effects on cognitive function.

As we obsess with the mostly illusory phenomenon of the “fetal heartbeat” at six weeks, we blithely ignore the astonishing intricacies of the developing fetal brain, which will have much more to do with the fetus as a person than does the heart. At what point in its development does the fetal brain most endow us with characteristics that define us as persons? That’s open to discussion, but it is certainly farther along than the sixth week of gestation. The six-week-old fetal heartbeat is more of a political highpoint than it is a medical or embryological one. In the debate over the fetus as a person, we should shift our attention to the most phenomenal and consequential organ of the human body—the brain.



Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Plant Rescue

 Ovidia--every other Tuesday

It's a Moon Day today, so no morning yoga practice at the Shala. (I try to go at least three times a week--five is my goal, but I don't always make it.)

I went for an early--gentle--walk instead. And I found a dead plant a neighbour had put out for disposal.

Yes it's on my patio now. The roller base is mine. But the pot it came in is nice--a good, solid old style red claypot. It was the pot that caught my attention first. I figured could recycle it instead of letting it get crushed in the garbage truck.



It was heavy.

And I saw why it had been thrown out--the mealy bugs on it were quite horrifying--



And there were ants wandering around on it, which made me worry for my own plants. Because it's the ants that cultivate mealy bugs, protecting and tending to them and finding new plants for them to infest and devastate in exchange for the honeydew they produce. 

Kind of like we cultivate sheep... and cows and corn, infesting and devastating our forest zones. I'm fond of ants--don't get me wrong. I'm also quite fond of some people.

I meant to dig the plant out and scrub down the pot. But then I saw this poor adenium wasn't quite dead yet--


There were still five tiny green leaves alive, after I pulled off all the dead brown ones. And there were several hopeful little buds sticking out. 

I used isopropyl alcohol on cotton swabs and underneath the mass of white death they're still alive...

And though several rotten branches needed to be cut away, its base seems solid. It's quite an old plant, rather like an old rescue dog that I can maybe give a few more good years to.

I'll probably dig it out of its pot (the pot that caught my attention) this weekend and see what kind of condition its roots are in, but that'll have to wait till after I finish the current WIP. 

But I'm going to give it a chance. If it survives I'll post more photos--please wish me luck!






Monday, September 26, 2022

THE MISSING AMERICAN IN JAPAN!

 I’m cheating a little by worming a post in before my scheduled date, but I wanted to share with you the beautiful Japanese version of THE MISSING AMERICAN. I think Susan will be especially interested! I confess I didn’t expect to be published in Japan, but no complaints here!

Because the jacket design is so attractive, I of course had to create a decorative mockup to go with it. I matched it with a lovely photo of a colorful autumn season and Mountain Fuji, with morning fog and red leaves at Lake Kawaguchiko.⁠ ⁠


I’m learning that traditionally, Japanese is read vertically from right to left (called tategaki (縦書き), but modern Japanese can be written horizontally left to right (yokogaki (横書き). Whichever way, the script is amazing. Unfortunately I can neither read nor write it!⁠


(Image BG by Travel mania/Shutterstock, the rest by Kwei)


Story Tellers

Annamaria on Monday

Story tellers are a category of sculpture that originated with the New Mexican Pueblo people. This art form was invented by Helen Cordero, a potter, who--in 1963--was inspired by the work of her grandfather, who followed the Pueblo tradition of oral history and story telling.   And by the traditional tribal role of the "Singing Mother" - an icon usually pictured with an open mouth, who passes down the culture's songs and stories from generation to generation.




I first learned of these charming figures from my dear departed friend and mentor, Dr. Barbara Fass Leavy, professor of literature and champion of the literary merits of crime fiction.  It was Barbara's collection that sparked my interest in the lovely terra cotta statues.

As with any art form, the best way to get to know this one is to look at the works. I think, since we on MIE are storytellers and story readers, these whimsical representations will charm you as they do me.

Here are two from Barbara Leavy's collection that I am thrilled to say are now mine!  I keep them near my computer, so that I pass them on my way to my own story telling.  They challenge to do my best to make my stories sing.  

 



Sunday, September 25, 2022

Soy Sauce and Donkey: A Pilgrimage BEFORE the (Kumano Kodo) Pilgrimage

-- Susan, every other Sunday

Two years ago next month, I hiked the sacred Kumano Kodo pilgrimage for the second time. This ancient trail is one of two pilgrimages registered as UNESCO World Heritage sites (the other is Spain's Camino de Santiago).

The day before the hike, I traveled south from Tokyo to Yuasa, a tiny town on the western coast of the Kii Peninsula that sits at the juncture where the coastal Kumano Kodo Kii-ji intersects with the Nakahechi--the "central route" that serves as the primary pilgrim trail.

If you've never heard of Yuasa, you're in good company. Even within Japan, it's not particularly well-known. 

However, I'm willing to bet you've heard of the reason Yuasa is famous. In fact, you probably have personal experience with Yuasa's primary culinary claim to fame . . . but more on that in a minute.

Like many Japanese towns, the manhole covers celebrate Yuasa's claim(s) to fame.

Due in part to its somewhat remote location, Yuasa remains a sleepy coastal fishing town. It sits about 2.5 hours south of Kyoto by a combination of express and local trains. 

Heron fishing in the canal

Upon arrival, I checked in at my lodgings for the night: Miyoshi-so, a ryokan (traditional inn) that has been serving travelers on the Kumano Kodo pilgrim trail for over 100 years.

The entrance to Miyoshi-so

Welcome tea and a local monaka (crispy filled wafer)-style cookie

My guest room.

 After relaxing for a few minutes, I headed out to explore the town. I was scheduled to begin the seven-day trek along the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi the following morning, and wanted to see as much of Yuasa's history as I could that afternoon.

The town has a large historical preservation district, with lots of preserved warehouses, shops, and homes.

Preserved homes in Yuasa's historical district

At the northwest end of the historical district, a building that once served as a shoyu brewery is now home to the Kadocho Soy Sauce Museum--a veritable wonderland for those of us who like small, odd collections of historical artifacts, and also an informative display about Yuasa's claim to fame.
 
(I promised we'd get back to that.)

According to local history, Yuasa is the place where soy sauce was invented--not just "in Japan" but anywhere in the world. 
  

The entrance to the soy sauce museum

Old soy sauce ads, bottles, and artifacts.

The implements used to brew traditional shoyu (soy sauce)

The displays were labeled (in Japanese) with brief explanations of each artifact's role in the shoyu brewing process. They were roughly "in order" from a brewing perspective, though as you can see in the photo above, the museum vibe leaned slightly farther toward "wacky grandpa's shoyu barn" than "true museum."

Not that I mind. When it comes to museums, I like them weird, and these artifacts felt much more "alive" than the ones you find in a sterile-type museum.

After viewing the soy sauce artifacts, I popped into the Kadocho shop across the street for some souvenirs. Kadocho still brews and sells soy sauce made the traditional way, with no preservatives and no unnecessary ingredients--including some that has nothing in it but soybeans, koji (the fermenting bacteria mixture) and salt. And after that, it was time for lunch.

At least, that was the plan.

Unfortunately, this little fishing town doesn't see much tourism--particularly mid-pandemic--and the only restaurant I found open in the historical district was a "fresh catch" place that had only fish on the menu.

(Note: I'm allergic to fish, so that option, though attractive to many people, was a hard pass where I'm concerned.)
More of Yuasa's preserved buildings

I started back toward the ryokan, hopes sinking ever lower as I realized even Google Maps had no idea where I could find a restaurant--or even a convenience store--that was open that day in this little town.

Just when I was ready to surrender all hope and wait for dinner (which fortunately was being prepared for me at the ryokan that night), I turned a corner and saw a white tiled building with a sign reading "Coffee Restaurant DONKEY"--and a flag out front that suggested it was open.

Coffee Restaurant ドンキ-- ("Donkey")

The outside wasn't much to look at, but when it's well past noon, I haven't eaten since 5 a.m., I've walked five miles since breakfast, and dinner isn't until 6:30 . . . I ain't too picky. I made a beeline for the door and headed in.

An adorable grey-haired, grandmotherly woman (who turned out to be one of the owners) led me to a table and handed me a menu--with an apology that it was written in Japanese. Fortunately, that wasn't a problem--although choosing from the list of intriguing options proved more of a challenge than I expected.

In the end I settled on "special doria"--which was a leap of faith, because although I know that "doria" is a dish composed of white rice baked in cream sauce, usually topped with meat sauce (and sometimes cheese), the menu didn't mention what made this one "special."

And in Japan, that really could mean anything. 

Ten minutes later, the sweet proprietor emerged from the kitchen bearing the dish below: 

A special doria indeed

The meat sauce smelled homemade--and slightly sweet, which gave me a moment's pause, but I was so hungry I didn't pause for long. As it turned out, the sauce atop the rice was indeed homemade, and fell somewhere between marinara and barbecue sauce (it tasted like a combination of the two) with liberal chunks of minced tomato, carrot, and onion throughout. Stranger still, the rice was mixed with little pieces of . . . scrambled eggs, a little like what you'd expect to see in fried rice, although this rice was steamed and baked in a bechamel sauce (as usual for doria) not fried.)

Now, based on that description, I think we can all agree the dish shouldn't work. Objectively, it sounds just . . . wrong.

But in reality, it was absolutely delicious--the best doria I've ever eaten, bar none, and I eat them often. Long before I finished, I was already regretting the fact that it would probably be two years (at least) before I was able to eat the dish again (since I try to hike the Kumano Kodo in even-numbered years)

It has been a year and eleven months since that fateful lunch, and I still miss that special doria.

Fortunately, it is an even-numbered year, and I do have plans to hike the Kumano Kodo this November. In about eight weeks, if everything goes as planned, I'll head south to Yuasa, to spend another night at Miyoshi-so before setting off on another pilgrimage along the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi.

And you can bet I'll be visiting Donkey the day before.

For now, I'll leave you with a view of sunset in Yuasa, shot from the window of my room at Miyoshi-so...



... And the official start of the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi, at Takijiri Oji, a few minutes inland from Yuasa by local train.  In two more months, I'll be back on the trail - and I'm looking forward to taking you with me, in tales and photos from the trip.