Saturday, December 29, 2012

Feline Watchmen

During this time of visiting friends in Baton Rouge, staying in their home I have shared space with a couple of furry friends named Gumbo and Memphis. A little standoffish the first week or so, they have gradually come to trust me. In the pictures below the two of them wait out a rainy day, looking every which way for the sunshine and a chance to get outside. 

Friday, December 14, 2012


Memories with much detail are hard to dredge up about many of the times in childhood that we all piled in the family car, a black 1948 Chevrolet and headed out for several days on the road aiming for the homes of distant relatives or joining the tourists to gawk at the mysteries of Mammoth Cave or the grandeur of Pike’s Peak. The most endurable memories of those times are the Burma Shave signs, the ever-present Stuckey’s around the next curve and the car games we played, making words from the letters glimpsed on fleeting roadside signs and billboards. Certainly we stayed nights in motels along the way, but mental pictures of those temporary stops have all but disappeared. We never stayed in any of the wigwam-style rooms, but in one place Daddy chose a log cabin court under flashing neon where at dinner the friendly and helpful waitress took the story about my fondness for rice and gravy to heart. Dessert included a bowl of raisin-studded rice pudding with a slosh of chicken gravy on top—just for me.

The Writer’s Almanac recently carried an interesting tidbit about the world’s first motel, planting the word in my head and nagging me to pursue this ‘first motel’ story farther. 

The Milestone Mo-Tel opened in San Luis Obispo, California in 1925, brainchild of California architect Arthur Heineman and the first roadside accommodation for travelers in the world. Heineman wasn't exactly going out on a limb with his venture. 1925 was a time when cars and road trips were enjoying new popularity and overnight rest options were limited; people either slept in their car or stopped at one of the few campsites or auto camps. Heineman decided to build a group of one-story bungalows 200 miles north of Los Angeles, each bungalow set around a tree shaded courtyard and allowing guests their own small garage. The price for a one-night stay was $1.25. The motel was built in an ornate Spanish mission style with white pillars and a three-tiered bell tower at a cost of $80,000, not more than fifty feet from Highway 101 skirting the California coast. Amenities included a restaurant famous for its steak and pretty young waitresses in Spanish outfits and big vaquero hats. Marcella Faust, one of the motel’s first employees described her days at the Milestone this way: “My sister and I and a girlfriend all worked there. My mother, she wanted me to finish school. But I wanted to work. She had eight kids and I told her there were enough legs under her kitchen table. And oh, it was wonderful to work. They trained us to fold the white linen napkins, to polish the silverware. In those days, there really was service. We were paid a dollar a day.”

The Depression years were hard ones for Heineman and his plan to open a string of motels up and down the California coast was never realized. There were also other developers who saw the sense in Heineman’s vision and imitators weren’t long in cropping up along America's highways. 

Today the Milestone Mo-Tel is a sad site of crumbling plaster and old furniture piled up in a dusty lobby. Many of the buildings were torn down in 2006 and only two fragments of the original buildings remain, including the bell tower. The motel closed in 1991 and is now used as an administrative building by a next door business.

Another example of Arthur Heineman’s work is the Fuller House in Los Angeles, sitting on almost three-quarters of an acre near Runyon Canyon off Franklin Avenue, the house was built in 1916 for a Hollywood developer named Fuller. It was designed by Arthur Heineman, who with his brother Alfred, designed several mansions and bungalows in the area. Samuel Goldwyn moved into the house with his second wife in 1925. It includes seven bedrooms, six and a half bathrooms, a dining room with butler’s pantry, a screening room, sunroom, breakfast room, tile fireplaces, a guesthouse, pool and outdoor living room.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

On Familiar Terms

Can’t claim the title above as my own, but on this afternoon in early December the words seemed just right and a tiny borrowing is harmless enough. Among his many books, Donald Keene wrote in 1996 one called On Familiar Terms, a series of essays describing a few of the people and experiences of his time in Japan. Far from Japan and back again on home ground in Louisiana, everything is once more familiar and to large extent an overflow of sensory impressions. Sights and sounds, southern voices overheard, their rhythm and drawl calling up memories of remembered aunts and uncles playing cards at the kitchen table; conversation with friends so enduring that words take on a meaning enriched by time and place and the Christmas table holds promise of not sugar plums and a gingerbread house, but of crawfish pie, po-boys and oyster stew.

Hard to remember the last Christmas I passed in Baton Rouge, but something tells me it was before the invention of ballpoint pens and color television. One Louisiana Christmas that for no special reason sticks in memory calls up images of an ugly brown suit and too much bourbon-laced eggnog. And here I am back again for Christmas with the friend who stood beside me singing carols, had no ugly brown suit but loved the eggnog as much as I. Back for Christmas with the girl I dated but the one that eggnog-loving friend married. With or without the eggnog, Christmas or otherwise, a season with Raymond & Dee is living life grand.

On most mornings my feet find a path along stretches of Florida sand, but this morning it was a different walk along familiar streets with ribbon-wrapped trees and pudgy snowmen decorating the homes of Old Goodwood. The nine months since my last visit have brought some change to those streets and houses. Landscapers have reshaped yards and contractors have both spruced up and added on, but the splendor of huge old oak trees overhanging streets and drooping their branches low over sidewalks is unchanged. Reading David Mitchell’s book Black Swan Green the other day, these words jumped off the page: “Trees’re always a relief, after people.”

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Memory Paintings

She is often referred to as the black Grandma Moses, but the ‘Americana’ of Louisiana folk artist Clementine Hunter is a strong reflection of African influences with its use of bold color, pattern, stylized imagery, and stacked perspective. The artist called her works memory paintings because they depict scenes of everyday life around the plantation and her church. Asked the title of a painting she would describe instead what it was about, rarely thinking in terms of a name. The titles we see given to her paintings were most often applied by her white patrons.

Clementine Hunter (she pronounced it Clementeen) was born in 1886 on a cotton plantation near Cloutierville, Louisiana. At the age of five her family moved to another plantation in the Cane River area of Natchitoches Parish, where she first attended school. Clementine never liked school, often failing to attend until her parents gave up on sending her. When she was fourteen the family moved again, this time to Melrose Plantation, another Cane River plantation dating from the late 1700s. The owners of Melrose hoped to preserve the arts and crafts of the Cane River area, and as a result the plantation became over the years a haven for artists and writers. Clementine and her family worked in the cotton fields and the pecan groves, but when she reached the age of forty-two Clementine moved from field work to house work.

Gone Fishing, 1950s; a day on Cane River with everybody fishing in their Sunday best.

Several years later a man named Francois Mignon joined the Melrose family as a literary assistant to the owner. He recognized the creativity of Clementine, offering daily encouragement. When a New Orleans artist visited the plantation to paint magnolias, she left behind several tubes of paint. Finding the paints, Clementine approached Mignon saying she could “mark” a picture of her own, and he gave her an old window shade, some brushes and turpentine. The very next morning, she brought him a picture. In the years following, she painted whenever she had time, on anything she could find—from cardboard boxes, brown paper bags, lumber, to plastic milk cartons and wine bottles. 

Cotton Crucifixion, 1970; oil on paper

Over the next forty plus years she produced 4000 paintings, each one telling in a simple, straightforward way a story of life as she saw it. Though illiterate, her paintings are a storybook of everyday life on and around the plantation. The artist died on New Year’s Day, 1988 and was buried near Melrose Plantation in a spot close to Francois Mignon, the man who believed so strongly in her talent.

Zinnias in a Pot, 1965; return to a favorite theme first seen in 1939

Milking Time, 1940s; asked why the cow had only three legs, the artist reasoned that the milking stool only needed three legs, so the cow only needed three legs.

The painting at the top is a large mural titled Baptism, done in 1955 and now in African House on the grounds of Melrose Plantation.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Symphonic Orangutans

In Japan, families traditionally gather in late December to celebrate the passage of the old year and arrival of the new. True of yearend in most countries, a variety of customs earmark the season and one of those involves the family watching together two or three popular and long-running television shows. The most popular of those has long been the celebrity heavy New Year’s Eve broadcast of  Kôhaku Uta Gassen or Red and White Song Battle. Another late December show that has been wildly popular since its debut in 1979 is Kinchan & Katori Shingo no Zen-Nihon Kasô Taishô, a pantomime contest exhibiting the passion and cleverness of amateur performers. Kasô Taishô translates as something along the lines of “masquerade belly laughs.”

The performers display a fun and often hilarious series of masquerades using precision choreography, goofy ideas, cute kids or clever visualizations. Imagine a parade of sight gags concocted by Monty Python, Terry Gilliam and French film director Michel Gondry and produced by Chuck Barris of The Gong Show. In addition to making their own costumes and props, contestants work hard to create an unusual, weird, wacky and very original idea, bringing it to life in a jaw-dropping performance.

Teams vary in number from individuals to school groups. Celebrity judges in crazy costumes vote at the end of each skit, the total score appearing in an onstage flashing tower of bells and lights. Contestants getting votes above fourteen qualify for big cash prizes but the large number of prizes almost guarantee that everyone is a winner. The top prize is a whopping ¥1 million, almost $12,600.

Have a look at three short examples…



KENDAMA NOTES  (Kendama refers to a cup and ball toy)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Volkswagen has a commercial on television these days which makes the point that ‘It’s not the miles, it’s how you live them.’ Not a gag or joke type of sales pitch, but if this one doesn’t make you laugh maybe you need to go in for a tune up.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Blue Bloods

Though never in proportions that we witness in our cities and along our coastlines, big storms do bring a measure of chaos and loss of life to marine communities beneath the waves. The situation here along Florida’s east coast gives the appearance of being not far from the norm and people are back under the sun with their boogie boards, fishing rods, bicycles and suntan oil. The difference out there now is the seeming closeness of people finding space on a beach with high rolling tides, one made narrower without the dunes that disappeared with the passing of Hurricane Sandy.

In living here the past couple of years and walking on the beach daily I’ve developed an eye that takes in many of the shifts and changes in life on or along the beach. But really, anyone ‘unplugged’ and sensitive to the sights and sounds will see the same thing. Pull out the earphones, put away your smartphone and on any day a mini-Jacques Cousteau special will unfold at your feet, but this time it will tell a story of storm effects on a creature 300 million years old—the horseshoe crab. A day after the storm passed Florida on its move north, horseshoe crabs began washing up on the beach in numbers not seen in a few years. Some quality or condition in their habitat was badly disrupted, causing many of them to die and wash up on the beach.

These ‘living Fossils’ with their fierce looking shells and long tails are interesting animals. They live primarily along the eastern North American coast in the soft sand of shallow waters. It surprised me to learn that they are not related to crabs but to spiders, scorpions, ticks and mites. Horseshoe crabs require sandy beaches to bury their eggs where it isn’t unusual for one female to lay between 60,000 and 120,000 eggs. Only the tiniest number of those eggs hatch and grow to maturity, since they are an important food source for shore birds. A horseshoe crab has five pairs of eyes, one pair of small pincers and five pairs of legs. The long tail is used for steering and to flip itself over if stuck on its back. Another curious characteristic is seen in their blood. Because of the copper in their blood, once exposed to air it is blue. Females are often twenty-five to thirty percent larger than the males. The appearance of these rather large prehistoric holdovers can be intimidating but horseshoe crabs are not at all dangerous.

Out for a bike spin on the beach Sunday morning, after riding south for about two miles the sand became less than hard and I cut up to the paved road for an easier ride. Decided for a change to ride on the much more picturesque Saxon Drive, one block west and that same street with the big, tall flowers that look so much like sunflowers. The street was never before familiar to me from the prospective of a bicycle and I was surprised by the charm of a shaded street nestled in the mangroves between the Atlantic and the Halifax River. Little traffic, wide sidewalks under an overhang of green, a bird sanctuary and a handful of beautiful homes make for a very pleasant Sunday morning bike ride. Very likely that my next bike outing will retrace the route along Saxon Drive. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Full Moon & Sunflowers

This week with the passage of Hurricane Sandy we in Florida were lucky, seeing nothing like the widespread devastation experienced across the northeast. Would be good to say that the storm left the coast of Florida untouched, but the wind factor put a dent in that. From early last Saturday through Sunday evening stormy seas whipped up by Sandy eroded beaches badly, washing away dunes and carrying sand by the ton back out to sea. But at least our houses are standing and we have power. Looking at photos of the situation in Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and New York it sounds tame to talk of tides on Florida’s east coast smashing harmlessly against a sea wall fifty feet away, but as I said, Florida got lucky. At the end of it all here’s what it looked like under Monday’s full moon.

A couple of blocks west of me a road runs north and south for a good distance, a route I rarely use. Yesterday I had reason to drive for a couple of miles on that road and at one point came upon a sight I had not noticed before. I last saw sunflowers a couple of years ago when I came upon a small patch of them growing above a river bank, stalks and flowers about five feet tall. The sudden appearance yesterday of sunflowers fifteen feet high at the side of the road almost made me swerve into the opposite lane. I right away wanted to stop and have a closer look, so pulled over to the side. A sign in front of the sunflowers warned me that the area around the flowers was for Buick parking only, so I had to find a spot not so close for my non-Buick. It was hard to get a satisfactory photo without walking into someone’s front yard, so I made do with a poorer angle. The picture below shows the sunflowers in comparison to a utility pole, as well as the Buick parking sign. Nice touch of humor. 

Looking later at the photo below I began to wonder if these are true sunflowers, as the distinctive dark florets in the center are absent. On seeing such tall golden-yellow flowers with large saucer-sized heads my immediate thought was, “Oh, those are sunflowers.” But it’s entirely possible that these are a cousin of the true sunflower with a name I don’t know. I almost want to return to the spot and knock on the door of the house there to ask about the tall flowers. Whatever the true name, look closely in the floret below and you’ll spot a bee tanking up on pollen and nectar.

The view below is another angle that shows much of the same with a soon to unfurl blossom to the left of the flower. Perhaps someone can identify the leaves here as distinctive. Give a holler if I’m off the mark in calling these soaring specimens sunflowers.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Math of Flowers & Bees

Throughout history, one particular ratio for the length and width of rectangles has been determined to produce a shape pleasing to the eye. Named the Golden Ratio by the Greeks, the ratio of 1.61803 has fascinated scholars, scientists, architects, painters and musicians for centuries. In the world of mathematics, the numeric value is called phi, named for the Greek sculptor Phidias who used the ratio in finding the best proportions for his statues. 

The number is derived from something known as the Fibonacci Sequence—an arrangement of numbers wherein each succeeding number is simply the sum of the two preceding numbers (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89…). This sequence forms the basis for the Golden Ratio of 1.618—a proportion which recurs with amazing consistency throughout the natural world.

Without benefit of a strong background in mathematics, this phenomenon of numbers and nature didn’t come to my attention until recently, when I read Michael Pollan’s book, A Place of My Own, his account of building a small one-room writing space that he called a “shelter for daydreams.” In sizing the ground plan for Pollan’s studio, the architect determined that the desk should run the length of the front wall. To get an idea of dimensions Pollan extended his arms out to the side, making a span of six feet, then added a depth of two feet for bookshelves on each end. This gave them the room’s width. Using the Golden Ratio, the architect multiplied that length of eight feet by the factor 1.618, coming up with 12.9. In this way he determined the final measurements of the room—a rectangle of eight by thirteen feet.

Nature’s perfect number also fits snugly into this Golden Mean. Odd as it seems to equate math with flowers, we can see shapes determined by this formula in the heads of daisies and sunflowers, in pine cones, leaves and seashells. The shape and proportions of a dolphin’s body, the markings on a butterfly or moth, as well as the facial features of tigers and koala bears all fall into line with the Golden Ratio. If you divide the number of female honey bees by the number of male honey bees in any given hive, you will get 1.618—the Golden Ratio. While there are arguments against it, many believe that for centuries great architecture has been influenced by the Golden Ratio. Some say that the Pyramids of Egypt reflect the Golden Ratio, that the Greeks used it in building the Parthenon, and the French in Notre Dame. It has figured in the thought and painting of Leonardo da Vinci and Salvador Dali, the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, as well as the music of Chopin.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Stuck on a Bench

Tokyo is a vast city incorporating an ever-changing mix of districts and neighborhoods, places differing in style and color and constantly offering up small architectural gems that chart the city’s growth. One of Tokyo’s most handsomely refurbished areas is the commercial district of Marunouchi, located in Chiyoda Ward between Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace. The name translates as “inside the circle” and comes from its location within the outer moat of the palace. Marunouchi is a major center of Japan’s financial industry with three of the country’s largest banks headquartered there. In recent years the area has become a magnet to tourists because of its tree lined streets and imposing architecture, as well as its world class shopping. You will find museums, department stores, multi-floored bookstores, historical buildings, elegant boutiques, theatres and of course the incomparable Tokyo Station.

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Marunouchi Shopping center, in cooperation with Chiyoda Ward, the Marunouchi Executive Committee presented a street side exhibition of Bench Art for five weeks in September and October of this year. The exhibition was of twenty sculptures either seated on or standing near specially made benches. The figures included famous characters, personalities, athletic heroes and historical figures and also names connected to the area of Marunouchi.

Looking at the sculptures (statues) the first thought is that none of them are very well executed in terms of modeling or delicacy. Some might even suspect that the artist didn’t understand his medium. Still it’s important to realize that because of its scope the project could never be envisioned as a collection of fine art. The artists are unnamed and it would surprise no one to learn that none are well-known names. But the concept is both valid and interesting.

Four of the sculptures (and I imagine the benches as well) are being auctioned for charity with the starting bid of $500.00. The four selected for auctioning are: Albert Einstein, Tatsuno Kingo, Tokugawa Ieyasu and Saigo Takamori. The last two are not included in the photos below.

Not sure why the sculptor chose to accent his portrait of Albert Einstein with the famous tongue-out pose, but it comes across as odd in this case. My guess is the idea was to make identification more immediate, since most are familiar with the 1951 Albert Sasse birthday photo of the famous physicist.

Not well-known outside of Japan, Tatsuno Kingo was an architect who made major contributions to the area during the Meiji period. He is remembered for his 1914 design of Tokyo Station. He also set up the Japanese architecture course at Kôbu University, which later became the Tokyo University Engineering Department, laying the foundations of modern Japanese architecture.

The Masked Rider is a Japanese superhero with the abilities of a grasshopper. The character first appeared in a manga-based television series, where the hero, an ordinary man is transformed on his high performance bike to battle various monsters. The role was first played by Hiroshi Fujioka.

Icon of silent film, Englishman Charles Chaplin was not only an actor, but director, writer, composer and producer of films.

Ryoma Sakamoto was a loyalist involved in the plot to overthrow Japan’s ruling Tokugawa Shogunate in the years between 1853 and 1867. He played a pivotal role in bringing about the 1867 Meiji Restoration.

Ryo Ishikawa, a professional golfer who became youngest money-title winner and the youngest overall winner on the Japan’s professional tour. His shy smile and good looks have attracted legions of fans.

Japanese professional baseball player Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui who in 2009 led the New York Yankees to a World Series win, receiving the series MVP award.

Shun Oguri is a Tokyo-born actor and director well-known for his numerous film and television appearances. He made his directorial debut as the youngest director in Japan with the film Surely Someday in which he also appeared.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

L’Indochine Française

An outstanding part of Vincent Lam’s recent novel of Vietnam, The Headmaster’s Wager, set during the long years of the country’s colonial history involving the French, Japanese and Americans, is description of French influence in Saigon and the nearby Chinese community of Cholon. There are perhaps many who are unaware of just how beautiful the city was during the 1940s and 50s before it all began to crumble under external pressure. Looking for further images of Saigon during those years I came upon a site devoted to the history and culture of Vietnam across the years and it turned out to house a treasure of impressive ads popular during the French hegemony in that country. For those willing to challenge the French language, there are a dozen or more pages filled with pictures and ads from the old Vietnam

Since I do not read French very well, my guess is the above graphic is an undated political propaganda poster by Jean Picard extolling the French as aides in the south’s war against the northern communists.

A fine example of French graphic art, extolling the beauty of Chinese Creek in Saigon.

The poster above advertises a popular tobacco company in Saigon during the period, one producing both cigars and cigarettes. One more superb graphic design.  

In this poster we see a line of workers carrying harvested rice up a slope in the Tonkin Delta of northern Vietnam. The area is known for its rice production.

Poster for a French airline carrying passengers between Hanoi and Saigon

Another poster advertising the natural beauty of north Vietnam’s Baie de Ha Long, written in French as Baie d’Along

This ad for a garage is especially charming with its drawing of a black man. Interesting to note that such images were extremely popular in French graphic art during the early twentieth century.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Hasty and Superficial Rhythm

Turn your head in any direction and you’ll see half a dozen people pushing buttons on a smartphone, round a corner and bump into three others tense with passive-aggressive phone whining, while everyone else is walking and texting. Don’t let’s even look at what the adjacent drivers are doing with their phones. Meanwhile, up in the rarified air of executive boardrooms Apple is besieged by complaints about the new iPhone 5 at the same time that the Samsung Galaxy S111 gathers accolades and market share. And while these two companies taunt, bicker and sue over what is in the long run really only money, twentieth-century diarist, Anaïs Nin, who would not have known what a smartphone is mumbles in her grave.

“The secret of a full life is to live and relate to others as if they might not be there tomorrow, as if you might not be there tomorrow. ...This thought has made me more and more attentive to all encounters, meetings, introductions, which might contain the seed of depth that might be carelessly overlooked.
“This feeling has become a rarity, and rarer every day now that we have reached a hastier and more superficial rhythm, now that we believe we are in touch with a greater amount of people, more people, more countries. This is the illusion which might cheat us of being in touch deeply with the one breathing next to us. The dangerous time when mechanical voices, radios, telephones, take the place of human intimacies, and the concept of being in touch with millions brings a greater and greater poverty in intimacy and human vision.” — The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 4, May 1946

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Blackboard Demon

Eight hundred and eighty-nine days have passed since my return from years of life in Japan and even now a random notion or sight of some small mikado-like doodad plunges me suddenly back again into memories and yearnings for Tokyo. Time perhaps has the power to erase many things but if that be true the process is delayed in my case.

Several days ago a friend in Tokyo sent me a movie made by the students in his tenth grade homeroom class at Kôsei Gakuen, a private junior-senior high school of all boys. In writing to me, Ken explained that his students made the movie specially for the annual cultural festival held over one weekend in September. The simple mention of this festival was enough to set my mind overflowing with a thousand images of those yearly festivals, events I attended dozens of times and in some cases participated in. Chocolate covered bananas, haunted houses, paper plates loaded with noodles or hot dogs, rock bands, art exhibits, concerts, and for one weekend students free to die their hair, wear hip hop fashions and get a little wild, with no harm done. This sort of autumn festival is a long tradition for all schools in Japan, kindergarten to university and provides students with an opportunity to show off their school to family and friends. It also provides a financial bonus for the student council, since a portion of all earnings from sales of food and drink are funneled into the council’s treasury. But the best part about these festivals is that students do every bit of the planning, preparation, shopping and management on their own, with only small advice and guidance from the teachers.

The movie below is student made from start to finish and probably was not too difficult for what their teacher calls ‘digital natives.’ You’ve heard it before—fifteen year-olds these days can do anything with computers and cameras. Take a look at the movie made by the students of tenth grade class 1-B at Kôsei Gakuen.

At the 1:28 time mark, you will see five lines of Japanese writing narrated by one of the students. He is giving the viewer an intro to the story, in English something like… 
‘Seeing a stick figure suddenly appear on the blackboard, a student peels the figure off, crumples it up and throws it away, but the figure returns as a vengeful devil and attacks the student.’

Have a look. The setting is in the classroom, hallways and area outside. It offers a very good look at the typical Japanese classroom, hallways and student uniforms.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Funny Popsicles

Forget for a moment the present and send your thoughts spinning back to the hot summer days of childhood. You’re riding your bike somewhere with a couple of friends, maybe on the way to read comic books at the drugstore, the temperature outside has sweat dripping off the end of your nose and you’re craving something wet, cold and sweet. Unable to hold out until reaching the drugstore’s air conditioned comfort, everyone skids to a halt at the corner store and dashes inside for that surefire relief buried in the store’s freezer—a Popsicle.

Back then the choices were limited to red, orange or purple and for your nickel you got a delicious freeze of water, sugar, artificial flavor and color that left the lips and tongue brightly stained, most of us ending up with a few cherry or grape splotches on our white T-shirts. The Popsicles or ice pops of today bare only slight resemblance to those summer treats of my childhood. Now we have something that is made from fresh fruit and quality ingredients and is low-calorie. Large cities like New York, San Francisco and Nashville have stores specializing in artisan ice pops with flavors like chocolate avocado, tangerine beet and cucumber mint lime and instead of a nickel you’ll spend more like $3.00 for one.

According to the popular line in our cultural history, one night in 1905, eleven year-old Frank Epperson left a mixture of powdered soda, water, and a stirring stick in a cup on his San Francisco porch. It was a cold night and the boy walked out onto his porch the next morning to find a frozen pop. He dubbed it the “Epsicle” and tried it out with friends at school. Everyone liked it and so Epperson continued making them over the years. Married and with kids of his own, he made them for the children and they began calling them “Pop’s ’sicle.” In 1923 Epperson patented the name Popsicle, but two years later sold the rights to the brand name. The two-stick Popsicles most of us loved were introduced sometime during the Depression.

But leave it to the Japanese to take the Popsicle to another level. We’ve heard before of their chicken wing and horse meat-flavored ice creams, so taking the ice pop to a new level should come as small surprise. According to Rocket News, Japan’s Gari Gari Kun has come out with a limited edition flavor that sold out within three days of its September 4 release. The company often comes out with different or seasonal flavored ice cream, usually something along the lines of pear or melon, or that perennial summer favorite, watermelon ice bars. This time they’ve veered off the charts with something called Gari Gari Kun Cream of Corn Soup ice bar.

A reporter from Rocket News described it this way… ‘On tasting this special treat, I was delighted by the flavor that melted in my mouth. Mmmm! The sweetness was just right. As the creamy corn flavor spread across my tongue I could picture the stalks, heavy with ears of fat corn, bending with the wind in the fields of Hokkaido.’ Overstatement perhaps, but worth a try?

About Me

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