“No Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
If I told you this was shot from my kitchen window, you know I’d be lying. I’m not sure there is any beach in Japan that looks like this. Well, maybe in Okinawa. The beaches I’ve been to have not been particularly clean, nor would I call picking my way between a patchwork of sunbathers who leave almost no room for walking, particularly pastoral. But then, I don’t go to the beach in Japan.
Hence the Food Blogger Camp in Ixtapa, Mexico.
But I didn’t go for the beach. I went for the company. To meet the bloggers. Oh sure, I’m a blogger, but just like I’m a farmer. I’m not really a blogger, not like most of the others.
I love my life in Japan (most of the time), but I do start feeling a little squished in, and the need wells up to get out to a world where I blend conveniently into the woodwork. There is a cartoon character in Japan called Doraemon. He’s a corpulent aqua blue cat with an annoying laugh and equally grating high voice. But he has an interesting device that he produces miraculously out of his kangaroo-like stomach pouch: the dokodemo door. He pulls this “anywhere” door out of his 4-dimension pocket with a flourish and the other characters walk through that door into another world. That’s how I feel when I travel.
I walk out the door and I’m already off to the next place. I switch out of Japan mode and am in my "other world" mode. France, Italy, the U.S….this time Mexico. It doesn’t matter. With the boys or without, it doesn’t matter. Though I do prefer traveling with them, because they’re fun to be with and great at the table.
So what about this Food Blogger Camp? First of all, it was at Club Med. Hmmm…not really my cup of tea, but I have to admit it was hard not to be seduced.
The Food Bloggers were a mixed group. Some had big name blogs, some still hadn’t started one. Some of us wrote food stories, some blogs were solely recipe generated. But what we all shared, was a sense of community. And that is why many of us came—to explore that community and to forge bonds within that eclectic community of quirky, but mad-for-food bloggers.
I’ve been thinking a lot about community these days. And realize I have several, though not really in the normal sense of the word. At Club Med, when I tried to explain about my life to new pal Romain, he was a bit confounded. “You don’t have friends in your town?” he asked, with a rounding of his eyes. His actual words were, “tu n’as pas d’amis dans ton coin?,” or something like that. Romain is a Frenchman. We have farmer friends in our area, or Kanchan the soba chef…but we all work every day, so social gatherings are rare. Oh, I’m "friends" with the teachers, Japanese staff and some of the mothers at my school, Sunny-Side Up! But that’s different.
Friends come from belonging to a community, so most of our friends in Japan (non-farmer or SSU! ones) are through a group of intercultural families that we were part of when the kids were younger. But as other families’ kids began entering Japanese school, except for the occasional holiday, they no longer had time for family gatherings. The weekends were devoted to soccer, baseball or study school. Also, our kids learned at a young age that foreign friends usually leave, so our boys always had their small set of close local friends. A welcome constant in an already unorthodox world of homeschooling on the farm.
I’m not much of a joiner, but at Club Med (well, more precisely, at Food Blogger Camp), I felt the warmth of being part of this larger food blogging community. And I thank the veteran bloggers for their democratic inclusiveness. But more than that, I thank them for the expertise that they so generously shared with all of the participants, both formally and informally.
Organizer Jaden Hair shared tips on how to get your “brand” out there. Go-getter leaps to mind. The best quote of the camp came from blogging powerhouse Elise Bauer, who originally started her food blog as a way to keep in touch and share recipes with family and friends. When she got her first comment on the blog, she immediately thought, “How dare they?” Now she spends 2 hours a day managing comments. Food writing guru Dianne Jacob walked us through a writing workshop involving corn pops and also took time out from the beach to do one-on-one work (probono). Very nice. Donna and Michael Ruhlman, the most beautiful couple at the camp, also turned out to be the most fun (and fun to talk to). I think I’m officially a Michael Ruhlman groupy, as my cookbook library has recently increased from 2 to 8 of his books. Todd Porter & Diane Cu spent the camp filming and photographing, while we all hit the beach. Their video and photos are not to be missed. I’d say their passion for photography and food is matched by their passion to teach. And even bloggers who were not speakers gave of their time with a gusto and selflessness that I had not expected. Techno wizard Owen Rubin was a patient, yet enthusiastic dispenser of advice, from photography techniques to SEO deconstruction for the not so tech savvy.
The first night anywhere is tough when you don’t know anyone. And it was obvious that many of the participants were close friends (if not from time spent face-to-face, at least through their blogs). But Brooke plopped herself down between me and Lori’s husband Brian, and made us feel welcome. Motormouth Stephanie was holding court toward the end of the table, with the ever so bubbly Diana keeping up, and then some. Ronn and I were the quiet ones, just taking it all in. And the brilliantly fey Garrett McCord drifted by before repairing to a tequila-shooting contest at our favorite after hours spot, the cabana bar.
As the days meandered along, I also made friends with Jody and a little girl named Katie.
Jody, a well-put together 50-something brunette, intrigued me by her genuineness. She was an anomaly: a Hollywood native who (inexplicably) spoke with a distinctly New York twang. We met on the plane from L.A.. Her son and girlfriend were my seatmates and their friendly (movie star stunning) family was traveling en masse. Gregarious and lively, she gave me a “zing” every time we talked. She also had a great laugh.
I sat across the aisle from Katie on the Club Med bus from the Zihua airport, and struck up a conversation with her, as I am wont to do. She reminded me a bit of myself when I was a girl, with messy blond hair and a pink face. I also liked that she had no wiles and was just a regular little girl, not precocious or pert. So refreshing. I took my shoes off, she took off hers. I curled my legs up on the seat to take a nap, she did the same. Really cute. I caught glimpses of Katie throughout the week: Katie dancing freely one night with some other equally footless little kids, Katie at the pool with her Dad, Katie, face smeared with pink oxide, on the way to eat tacos with her mom and brother. Katie would be right at home at SSU!. I looked at her like my little talisman, “keeping it real” in paradise.
I came away from the week with so much to think about and a nascent desire to take my Indigo Days blog out into a bigger world. I’ll miss the people I met at Food Blogger Camp and the conversations we had, but with the Internet, we can continue having them. So I boarded the plane bound for Narita with a light step, anxious to get back to the farm.
After all, “there’s no place like home.”
I’m new to the blogging world, and up until the camp didn’t really read too many blogs. But the first one I did read was recommended by Giovanna, a writer and friend in Portland. Oh, I take that back, the first blog I ever read was Giovanna’s and I still think it’s one of the best around. But David Lebovitz’s blog from Paris captured my heart as well. Funny, well written, informative, what is there not to like? And in person, David doesn’t disappoint. I’ve never seen such a mobile face—the widening of his eyes in a flash of surprise says it all. As an ex-bartender, I had a hard time finding the perfect cocktail at Club Med, but photographer Matt Armendariz’s concoction, A Lebovitz Isle, hit the spot. Matt and his food stylist partner, Adam Pearson, have more tats than the yakuza, but the resemblance ends there. Teddy-bear gentle, they share an appealingly off-color sense of humor. I could go on, but maybe you’re interested in the drink…
A Lebovitz Isle Method: Fill a tall glass with large ice cubes. Add pineapple juice (preferably fresh) halfway up and top with sparkling wine. No need for your best French, a moderate Californian works nicely (avoid the rot gut). Add a squeeze of lime if you like. Sip on a beach under the Mexican sun.