Monday, January 31, 2011

Scrap Paper Doodles

Occasionally the idea arises that possibly some of the scrap paper doodles in my notebook might have a smidgen of poetic resonance. The kind of words normally coming off my pen aren’t anywhere near what most call poetry, and to that extent I’m no poet. But sometimes the urge comes to play the words in a different way. Here are a couple of pages pulled dogeared and dirty from that notebook.


CHERRY BOWL

Spring piled up in a kitchen bowl—

scooped from ground spread with drifts of pink,

a handful of wind-scattered cherry blossoms

offering a last splash of fragile color

in the space of this Sunday room.


AT DAY’S END

The brown of used up leaves,

spots of dull red

crinkled on garden paths and city curbs.

Faded green

giving way finally

to sere remnants of late autumn.

All stands still

in the cold light of retreating day.

The only movement

a trembling leaf

held to branch by one last breath,

but it too gives up

and falls

a fluttering spiral.

The man next door

burns his heap of leaves,

rake in hand

standing vigil, the smoldering heap.

Smoke-scented air and

overhead two, three

persimmons

speckled with black,

waiting to offer their last

to sharp-eyed crows,

while shiny orange cousins

sit in kitchen bowls

or hang drying on veranda poles

Again and again

a child slides on wilted cardboard,

down down the concrete slope

A scratchy whoosh

Whoosh! repeated repeated.

Mother watches,

or halfway watches,

bored with autumn, the repeated game.

Old-fashioned speakers

high in the shedding trees

begin their call.

Old ballad, old notes calling:

Late afternoon

Time to go.

Mama is waiting

Time for home.

Light fades

curtains shutters

close out the night.

Muted sounds of a quiz show

all that remain

at this day’s end.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Once Upon a Time

Another of the many casualties of the modern digital, computer-connected life is the old custom of both sending and collecting picture postcards. At one time, when most homes were without a telephone and when city dwellers could expect mail delivery two or three times a day, the postcard served as a cheap and fast means of visual communication. At one time it wasn’t all that uncommon to receive in the morning a card saying, “I will see you this afternoon for tea.” These days an email lands in your inbox, plain white ‘electric’ paper, and in an ugly block type san serif you get: CUPM4T. No greeting, no signature, but maybe a little yellow animated smiley face. Pretty much the case now, and no question it is the same around the world, including Japan. In spite of that, Japan at one time enjoyed a golden age of picture postcards.


In a beautiful book published by the Museum of Fine Arts in conjunction with their exhibition in 2004 of “Art of the Japanese Postcard: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston” we are given an impressive look into the postcard art form as it was practiced in Japan in the late nineteenth, early twentieth centuries.


One of the major factors in the popularizing of postcards in Japan was their use in conveying visually both news and military propaganda. As documents of current events, every incident from floods to earthquakes was sketched or captured by snapshot and turned into a postcard. The heyday of postcard popularity in Japan ran from 1896 to 1914, and by 1905 the modern visual style was beginning to show signs of graphic sophistication. Curator of the Boston exhibition, Anne Nishimura Morse believes that any history of Japanese art would be incomplete without the inclusion of the postcard art of that country.


Fishermen by Yamamoto Kanae; sometime between 1900-1912; color wood engraving, ink on card stock.


Two o’clock at night in the Yoshiwara, from a 1906 series by Odake Kokkan; color woodblock and stencil, organic and inorganic colorants, metallic pigment on Japanese paper adhered to card stock.


New Year’s card 1932 by Takahashi Haruka; color lithograph, ink and metallic pigment on coated card stock.


Japanese soldier facing the rising sun; artist unknown, from the time of the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905; color woodblock and embossed texture, organic and inorganic colorants, on card stock.


Mandarin Ducks from a series by Saitô Shôshû; from sometime between 1900-1912; color lithograph, ink on card stock.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Big City Flavors

Friday was a town day, beach and surf fading in my rearview mirror not long after ten o’clock, car’s nose pointed west toward the Toyota dealer fifty miles distant. Time for another of those maintenance checks. Sometimes I wonder if there’s anyone more helpful, courteous and efficient than the people at Toyota.


So, I was late getting home and after looking through the empty refrigerator for dinner material and then flopping in a chair with Bacardi and Coke to watch the fading light and darkening ocean, it eventually came to me that I hadn’t given any thought to writing some niblets for Scriblets. Pondering on that while the level in my glass slipped lower and lower, I remembered a recent book with page after page of dazzling photography. Tuttle Publishing put out in 2010 a new collaboration by Donald Richie and photographer Ben Simmons called Tokyo Megacity. It’s another of those large ‘coffee table’ type books that present all the good, beautiful, lyrical, modern, traditional and attractive things about Tokyo, megalopolis supreme. Below are a few favorite photos from that book.


Spring visitors stroll the hillside azalea gardens during a fine mid-April afternoon at Nezu Shrine.


His venerable old family speciality shop offers senbei crackers in Sendagi.


A young woman waits an arriving Fukutoshin Line subway in the Chichusen.


The modern fashion accessory, the cellphone, handy for coordinating a schedule and keeping in touch with friends.


A sarariman (office worker) passes through an old alleyway in Shimbashi.


Masterpiece tattoos revealed during the heat of the Sanja Festival.


The Yurikamome Elevated Railway glides past behind a fluttering Japanese flag.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Like A Virgin

One of the more common sights where people gather is the person or persons reading a book. You’ll see them anywhere, in waiting rooms, airports, on park benches. Don’t know if it’s just me, but I usually try to sneak a look at the title, interested in what even a stranger is reading. Now and then you might see someone reading Friedrich Nietzsche or Homer’s The Iliad, but more often it’s either John Grisham or one of the latest bodice rippers by Johanna Lindsey or Cherry Adair.


Call me picky, but I had never read one of the many books that feature on the cover a virile hero type, half dressed and tangled in the arms of a raven haired beauty in a ripped bodice, all happening on a sinking ship or besieged city walls. No, I had never read one until…


Watching the Cameron Diaz movie, In Her Shoes (2005) one night, I had a good laugh over a romantic couple reading passages from one of the popular romance novels. Hitting the pause button at just the right moment I was able to make out the title of the book they were reading from. I later got a cheap copy and read the whole thing.


In this line of books I don’t have much experience to base an opinion on, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that Captain Jack’s Woman, written by Stephanie Laurens is—without the use of a single bad or four-letter word, without mention of impolite body parts—the most pornographic book I’ve ever read.


It is England 1811 and Kit Cranmer is back at home in West Norfolk after six years in London, while Jonathan Hendon, better known as Captain Jack, is once again in Norfolk chasing smugglers. In the days to come Kit finds herself longing for adventure and mixed up with a band of smugglers. Soon enough she is involved with Captain Jack, and he also ‘deeply’ involved with her.


‘Her lover is much more than he seems—a man of secrets and dangerous mystery—and becoming Captain Jack’s woman will carry Kit into a world of sensuous pleasures and unparalleled perils, to heights of excitement beyond anything she’s ever dreamed.’


Following is a paragraph from the book’s first love scene, a mere snippet of the full eight pages, every line a lusty growl or purr of wanton horniness…

‘Fire raged through Kit, leaving her scorched, parched, thirsty. Her lips clung to his, as if the passion in his kiss was her only salvation. Little rivers of flame ran through her veins, pooling in liquid fire between her thighs. She pressed her thighs hard against the muscular column between them but could find no relief. The flames flared briefly, and then faded to a glow…Jack seemed content to nibble tantalizingly at her lips, allowing her mind to struggle free of the drugging effect of his kisses. She tried to ignore the peculiar hot ache deep within her, called to life by his passion, quietly building…Her sense of right and wrong was hopelessly compromised.’


The next time the two come together their passion is acted out over ten pages, most of it more heated than their earlier encounter. What makes the second meeting so memorable is that halfway through their carnal gymnastics we (and Captain Jack too) learn that Kit is a virgin! Well, there’s only one conclusion to draw. This girl is a natural when it comes to entertainment between the sheets, though she proves soon enough that hard, rocky ground, or a pile of hay in the stables can also bring out her talents. But she has a good (and randy) teacher in Captain Jack.


The Australian author, Ms Laurens, is probably laughing all the way to the bank. I read somewhere that she was a science writer before trying her hand at romance. Put her mind to it and she could probably write serious literature, but maybe wealth and success with Captain Jack have dulled that need.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wah-Wah

In 1968 the small country of Swaziland in southeastern Africa declared its independence from Britain, ending sixty-six years of British colonial administration. One British national who grew up in Swaziland during the last years of British rule is actor and writer, Richard E. Grant. Eager to direct a film, in 2005 he got the backing necessary to make a film based upon memories of his young life in colonial Africa, memories that touched only lightly upon the political but more heavily upon his family concerns. An independent feature, Grant’s film was released in 2005 with the wonderful title, Wah-Wah.


Each week I grab off the library shelves a couple of movies to watch on late evenings, and many times the DVDs are almost random picks, quickly chosen without much consideration. Too often eyelids grow heavy after fifteen wasted minutes of bad, boring, duh-type moviemaking, but then sometimes I’m lucky, unknowingly picking up a lost or forgotten jewel of filmmaking, then sitting happily, an enchanted captive until the final credits roll past. That was the case with Richard E. Grant’s Wah-Wah.


Even though the timeline of Grant’s film coincides with the coming of Swaziland independence, his story is basically one of family and the struggles that fill that smaller arena, only superficially influenced by the approaching loss of British colonial hegemony. A large part of the story is about growing up and begins with young Ralph Compton (Grant) witnessing his mother’s indiscretions with a family friend, hard knowledge for a ten year-old, and made even harder when his mother runs away with the man. Half destroyed by his wife’s actions, Ralph’s father sinks into alcoholism and depression, but then not too long after brings home an American wife. This step-mother is not easily accepted by Ralph, but her loud and brusque American charm gradually wins him over. Soon after he has come to accept the new wife-step-mother, his real mother turns up suddenly wanting to ‘come home.’ The American wife packs her bags and leaves, unwilling to pit herself against this rival. But it isn’t long before the repentant mother’s bad character is unveiled and both husband and son spurn her weak apologies and entreaties, sending her packing. Still much in love with the damaged and alcoholic husband, the American returns, most of the family’s bitter knots coming untangled in the end.


Grant’s writing and direction skillfully blend warmth and humor, and with the emotional scenes make for a balanced story about people you both laugh and cry with. The movie was filmed on location in Swaziland, a beautiful background enhanced all the more by the well chosen music and soundtrack. Without single exception the actors are one and all outstanding. Gabriel Byrne gives maybe his best performance ever as the cuckolded and alcoholic husband, and Miranda Richardson too, is good as the straying wife and mother. Nicholas Hoult plays the teenage Ralph with a perfect blend of rebellion and charm, his childhood castles shattered by parents he can’t stop loving. Emily Watson just about steals the show as Ruby, the former airline stewardess from America, new wife and step-mother. The title of the picture comes from a funny scene where the ex-stewardess mimics hoity-toity upperclass British colonials talking to each other. To her it’s all “Wah-wah, wah, wah, wah-wah.”


Looking for production details on IMDb I found a disappointing fact. The movie was made for $7,000,000, but then grossed only $233,000 at the box office. Discouraging to see these indications that so few moviegoers are attracted to movies without bombs, bullets and mayhem.


If browsing Redbox or Netflix one day, you stumble across a movie with the unusual title of Wah-Wah, grab it up. Chances are good you’ll like it.



Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hijinks Over the Hill

Going back a couple of weeks, remembering encounters with various people—elderly people. I wrote in a post called “Club Dead” on January 8 that life along my stretch of beach has been in large part taken over by winter visitors, ‘snowbirds’ here from colder climes. As it happens, things were just getting started and were a pale preview of the action (or is it inaction?) around here now. The weeks since arrival have allowed a long list of activities to blossom. Bingo was the start, but now there is poker, shuffleboard, game night, cookouts, mahjong, cocktail parties, three-hole golf and shopping lunches. The calendar and sign up sheet on the clubhouse bulletin board is so elaborate it must have been created by a professional.


As for cocktail parties, one of my friends from Cleveland was here and thought it might be fun. The designated starting time was 4:30 p.m. around the pool. Everything of course was BYO, so about ten before five we walked out to the pool with a bottle of wine and a platter of cheese and crackers. The crowd looked a little thin when we got there, and a couple of ladies in cocktail leisure suits were busy wrapping snacks in Saran wrap. One of the two looked up at us standing stupidly there with wine and crackers and explained, “We’re just picking things up now, about to go in. Most folks wanna get to the dinner table soon.” Lisa and I waited to get back inside before laughing about a thirty-minute drinks party.


An encounter this morning…

Two old guys were sitting out on the oceanfront deck, cane and walker parked nearby. They watched me coming up from the beach, and before I could shake a foot free of sand they began a conversation.

CODGER A: “Now, I hear you were over in Japan for some years. What’s the exchange rate now? When I was there back in 1948 it was 360 yen to the dollar. Has it dropped any?”

ME: “Uh…”

CODGER B: “I was there in 1945 myself. Has Tokyo changed much to speak of?”

CODGER A: “Somebody told me a cup of coffee costs $10.00. Bet you’re glad to be outta such an expensive place, huh?”

CODGER B: “Did you like it over there? How’d you talk or understand anything? Why hell, I wouldn’t be able to so much as buy a bottle of milk.”


In a change of scene, one of the posts from mid-January was about an elderly woman I had some bad vibes from while visiting my friend Angela in the nursing home. The bad vibes came from an eighty-five year-old who told me to get the hell out and take the crap I was reading with me. This happened when I asked her to turn the volume down on The Wheel of Fortune. She later got moved out of Angela’s room for continued orneriness and bad language. Visiting Angela again yesterday I got the latest news. The former roommate—call her Jezebel—was apparently none too happy in her new room, because inside of two days she smashed the television, threw a chair through the window glass, and somehow managed to climb out and hobble off down the street in her open-at-the-back hospital gown. The nursing home aides tackled her two blocks later and wrestled her kicking and screaming back to base. Word from Angela is that they sent her straight to Halifax House for Incorrigible Seniors. Bars on the windows, straps on the beds and ankle bracelets of the kind Martha Stewart made famous.


Life is lively around here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Not a Wet Noodle


Liking the look and feeling encouraged by reviews and talk about the new Noodler’s Flex Pen, I jumped on the bandwagon and ordered one from Brian and Rachel at The Goulet Pen Company. Whatever anyone might say about Brian and Rachel, you will never in a hundred years hear any complaints about the service they offer customers. In four simple words: THERE IS NONE BETTER. Brian and Rachel do it better than anyone and they do it with a smile and they do it fast. Not even possible for someone to regret doing business with The Goulet Pen Company.


Wish I had better things to say about the Noodler’s Flex Pen I received from Brian and Rachel today. No question, it is a handsome fountain pen. It comes in about thirteen colors, with more promised, and at $14.00 is dirt cheap. Very lightweight, it measures five and one-eighth inches (13cm) closed and almost five and a half inches (14cm) posted. The makers describe it as a classic 1960s design and I wouldn’t argue with that. Nice clean lines, one silver band and a silver pocket clip. Naturally, for such a low price this band and clip are not really silver, but more likely white metal. The body is a celluloid derivative, and in the case of mine a color called ‘Ivory Darkness.’ As I said earlier, it is a handsome-looking pen.


The nib is stainless steel tipped with ‘a hard platinum group metal alloy.’ Again, when you see the word platinum keep the low price in mind. The directions (too long and too complicated, remindful of an old computer software manual) suggest that with the flex nib, writing should be adjusted to allow better ink flow to the page. And there’s the rub. In my trials and experimentation, anything faster than the hand of a child practicing script produces skips. The sample poem in the photo here had to be written tediously slow to avoid an inkless nib. In line with my own personal preferences, the stainless steel and the nib’s fineness become something of a problem. I like more nib and equally more ink—a wetter line in other words.


It’s hard to compare the Noodler’s Flex Pen with other inexpensive fountain pens, because I can’t think what might be in the same price range. My Pelikano Junior cost more. Hard also to recommend the Flex as a starter pen, because the nib would cause problems for young students. Suppose I could say that the Flex is a good choice for people who want to give slow, ‘pretty’ writing a try. No regrets about buying it, but doubt it will be a fountain pen I call upon often.


For those who like a fine nib, a little flex, and don’t want to spend a lot on a fountain pen that comes in more than a dozen colors, the Noodler’s Flex Pen is your baby.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Portrait of the City

Two weeks ago, posted on Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York was, at least for me, an eye-opening account of New York artist-cartoonist, Denys Wortman. Despite his productivity, and despite his obvious talent, the name of Wortman has remained obscure over the years since his long period of steady work during the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Following his death in 1958, the artist’s work was relegated to storage boxes and dusty closets. The failure to give Denys Wortman the recognition he deserves is close to a crime.


Born in 1887, Wortman knew from a young age that he wanted to draw and enrolled in the New York School of Fine and Applied Art. His teacher was the near-famous Robert Henri, and his classmates included Edward Hopper, George Bellows and Rockwell Kent. In 1924 Wortman began drawing the comic panel, Metropolitan Movies in the New York World newspaper. This was the work that revealed his true strength and talent. He ultimately did over 9,000 drawings for the newspaper over thirty years. His work was also seen regularly in World Telegram, Sun, The Saturday Evening Post, Life and The New Yorker. Compared to such greats as Hogarth, Daumier and Renoir, the Metropolitan Museum and New York Public Library both maintained a complete collection of proofs of all his cartoons. Wortman’s work is a catalog of life in New York City during the Depression and years following.


Contemporary cartoonist and editor James Sturm only recently discovered Wortman in a vintage copy of his book, Mopey Dick and the Duke. Strongly impressed, Sturm set out to learn more about Wortman, eventually contacting the artist’s son, Denys Wortman VIII. Unbelievably, the son was holding an archive of more than 5,000 illustrations packed away in an old shed, battling rats, snow and rusty paperclips. The result of that find has become an exceptional tribute to this artist: Denys Wortman’s New York.


Wortman’s genius was not only his artistic excellence, but accuracy in portraying a city and its people through the Depression and the prosperity of World War II. He took seriously the advice of teacher, Robert Henri, to depict the world around him. If in nothing else, Wortman succeeded hugely in that aim. Almost every aspect of homelife, street life and the workplace has been depicted by the artist. His characters are working people, mothers, sailors, soldiers, actresses, bosses, children and nearly every other type found in New York City during the 30s and 40s.


What grabs the viewer at once in a Wortman drawing are composition, his distinctive arrangement of figures around the setting, be it street, rooftop or workplace, and the character of his models. Looking at his cartoons they practically exude a smell and feel of the location, drawing us into the world of his colorful, breathing characters.


Residents of New York are fortunate to now have an opportunity to see an exhibition of Denys Wortman originals at the Museum of the City of New York. “Denys Wortman Rediscovered” will continue through March 20.


Looking through Sturm’s book of 287 Wortman drawings, beyond the power of those drawings is the big puzzle: What explains the absence of Denys Wortman from fine art and comics history?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Trading Brown for Green

Many areas of the country have been experiencing hard weather the past few weeks, terrible snow, scary ice and numbing cold. One of the reasons some have chosen to live in Florida is that such kind of weather is rare at this latitude. At least for me warm works better, humid, tropical weather not at all disturbing or debilitating. But don’t be fooled, because Florida north of Miami is not always bikinis and volleyball on the beach. Been mentioned a few times in these pages how cold weather has affected the look and feel of things in my corner of Florida. Since the freeze we had last week, there isn’t a single Sea Grape tree anywhere that doesn’t have crispy brown leaves, most of them blown off.


We’ve had our own problems here where I live, and to be honest, the grounds are looking pretty beat up. Lots of brown and very little in the way of flowering shrubs. For that reason the Board of Directors has been weighing the options of putting some life back in things, considering a ‘face lift’ of sorts. It’s not too unusual in cases where a board, committees and concerned owners are involved, and where budgets rule not too unusual for decisions to take time. Happily, we got over that hurdle today and help is on the way. Hopefully, the residents here will see spring arrive in the shape of newly landscaped grounds blooming with Birds of Paradise, Chinese Fan Palms, Pineapple Guava, Giant Agave, Juniper and Blue-Eyed Grass.


A landscape designer studied the problem and came up with a design that, with minor alterations gained approval. The downpayment made, work should begin as soon as the 193 new plantings arrive at the local nursery. Doesn’t sound like such a big thing, but around here at least excitement is high.


For me personally, it is probably blessing enough that I am able to live on the edge of the ocean in a place of abundant natural beauty. The thought that it’s now going to all get even more beautiful…Well, life is good.


Since I had a small part in the selection of trees, shrubs and grasses that will color the new look, access to photos was possible. The photos here are a few from the incoming wave of green, members of the soon-to-be new look outside my windows.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

All About Waitresses

A few days ago The Writer’s Almanac included a poem by Elliot Fried. It’s one that impressed me, and right from the gate, here it is.


DAILY I FALL IN LOVE WITH WAITRESSES

Daily I fall in love with waitresses
with their white bouncing name tags
KATHY MARGIE HONEY SUE
and white rubber shoes.
I love how they bend over tables
pouring coffee.
Their perky breasts hover above potatoes
like jets coming in to
LAX
hang above the suburbs—
shards of broken stars.
I feel their fingers
roughened by cube steaks softened with grease
slide over me.
Their hands and lean long bodies
keep moving so…
fumbling and clattering so harmoniously
that I am left overwhelmed, quivering.
Daily I fall in love with waitresses
with their cream-cheese cool.
They tell secrets in the kitchen
and I want them.
I know them.
They press buttons creases burgers buns—
their legs are menu smooth.

They have boyfriends or husbands or children
or all.
They are french dressing worldly—
they know how ice cubes clink.
Their chipped teeth form chipped beef
and muffin syllabics.
Daily I fall in love with waitresses.
They are Thousand Island dreams
but they never stand still long enough
as they serve serve serve.


Elliot Fried was an unfamiliar name and I made a point of looking for information about him, as well as other examples of his work. That proved to be hard work. Here is the sum total I managed to dredge up…

Elliot Fried got his MFA in creative writing from the University of California at Irvine. He is currently (?) a professor of creative writing at California State University at Long Beach. He has published two collections of poetry, Marvel Mystery Oil (1991) from which the above poem comes, The Man Who Owned Cars (1994) and has also edited three anthologies: Amorotica, Men Talk, and Gridlock. Co-founder of the Long Beach Poetry Festival, his poems as well as fiction have been included in anthologies and magazines. Since 1995 four of his poems have been spotlighted in The Writer’s Almanac.


None of his collections or anthologies are currently available, or in print. When BookFinder.com offers no match for an Elliot Fried book search, you are pretty much at a dead end.


As for the poem above, no ‘literary’ remarks are required; no commentary necessary. A good poem simply because the poet makes facile and entertaining use of food words to convey story and picture.

Friday, January 21, 2011

When Geography Turns Interesting

A good place to find books on curious or unfamiliar topics is in those bargain bins placed outside the bookstore entrance. You never know. Stuck in a row of remainders snuggled up against the autobiography of Vanna White could be something like an overlooked first edition, first printing of Jonathan Franzen’s 2006 novel, The Discomfort Zone priced at $1.25. Taking the time to dig through the piles of self-help manuals and celebrity confessions, you never know what lies in wait.


Odd bits of information and obscure facts sometimes make for interesting reading, and rummaging in the sale box at Barnes & Noble one day a book on geography came to hand. It turned out to be an enjoyable read. Sounds like an unlikely reaction to a subject not always viewed as particularly fascinating, I know. The Handy Geography Answer Book is one in a series of ‘answer books’ from Invisible Ink Press, and had the subject been weather, space or sports I might have passed. At the top of page one in the geography book I learned something I didn’t know, that the word ‘geography’ is of Greek origin meaning “writing about the earth.” A few pages later we read about the shameful phenomenon called geographical illiteracy, all too common among young people everywhere, especially in the US. Surprising is the news that half of young Americans between eighteen and thirty-four in 2006 could not find the state of New York on a map, and thirty-three percent couldn’t find Louisiana.


The layout of this Matthew Rosenberg book is in an easy-to-browse style that makes it the kind of book you can pick up for a minute or two of quick reading. In less than twenty minutes of flipping around I came across these bits and pieces:


• Daniel Defoe based Robinson Crusoe on Alexander Selkirk, an English sailor who argued with a ship captain and asked to be set ashore on the island of Mas a Tierra, 400 miles west of Chile.


• Why is a book of maps called an atlas? The Greek mythological figure Atlas was forced to hold the world upon his shoulders. Because it was so often pictured on ancient books of maps, the books became known as atlases.


• Mexico City, with over 40,000 factories, 3.5 million cars and 24 million people has the worst smog in the world.


• Though scientists aren’t sure why, there is an average of 105 boys born for every 100 girls.


• Introduced in the fifteenth century, forks and spoons didn’t come into common use in Europe until the seventeenth century. Prior to that people ate with hands and a knife.


• The most common last name in the world is Chang.


• The geographical center of the lower forty-eight states is a few miles northwest of Lebanon, Kansas.


• Truth or Consequences, New Mexico is named after a popular quiz show.


• With no oil of its own, Japan must import all the oil it uses. To accommodate the country’s needs there is a constant stream of oil tankers spaced 300 miles apart bringing oil twenty-fours hours a day, 365 days a year.


• Japan’s Mount Fuji is the country’s most popular tourist site, and the world’s most visited mountain.


• Where is Timbuktu? It is near the Niger River in the African country of Mali.


• New Zealand, a major exporter of wool has sixteen sheep for every person in the country.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Soy Barrel Evenings

Thoughts today still rumbling around the idea of space and how it can best be utilized for aesthetic as well as practical purposes. With the clever design of Japan’s ‘bicycle tree’ still in mind, it was understandable that other innovations and designs by those clever Japanese would trickle into my thoughts.


If finding available space for parking bicycles is a problem in Japan, it’s nothing compared to using available space judiciously in the design and construction of houses and apartments. True, many Japanese homes are a stuffed jumble of boxes and furnishings where interior space becomes increasingly cramped. But there are as well living spaces designed by architects on the cutting edge of space management.


Five or six years ago I bought a book in Tokyo called simply, Space, by photographer Michael Freeman which examines in photographs ‘Japanese Design Solutions for Compact Living.’ The 224 pages are filled with examples of how Japanese architects and homeowners have tackled the problem of comfortable yet aesthetic living in small spaces, extending the principles to garden as well as interiors.


Photos included here are of a backyard den in Ibaraki, just north of Tokyo. A traditional wooden barrel used in making soy sauce serves as a foundation for the structure. The diameter of the barrel, and ultimately the den as well, is six and a half feet, and the idea of turning that small round space into a playroom for the guys came from a group of friends who have known each other since childhood. The ‘house’ was built in the garden of one friend at a cost of $4,600, and was a three month project. It features a central hearth for both cooking and heat, and also has air conditioning for summer months. The tiny house is furnished with a hi-fi system, television, a central table with drawers and rice straw mats on the wood floor. The friends prepared the barrel by leaving it filled with water to remove the smell of soy sauce. The barrel is made of Japanese cedar and this is enough to ensure privacy for the Saturday nights of beer and baseball. The photograph shows only three people, but in a crunch it can accommodate seven in what the builders describe as ‘close comfort.’

About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America