All the Dead Brollys! Umbrellas in Japan

Living in Japan introduced one to a new attitude toward umbrellas. Different from the attitude many, maybe most, Westerners bring to Asia with them.  As the rainy season began soon after we moved, a wind and rainstorm lashed our town in Japan. That was nothing novel. It stormed to beat the band along the Gulf Coast. And in Botaswana, the adoration folks had toward rain led them to name their money after it – a great celebration came with the season’s change. What was different was the supreme, yes, even Zen-like relationship and cavalier attitude I saw, or Imagined I saw, toward rain in Japan. 

Wyeth’s Crusoe illustrates man’s needs: musket, hatchet, umbrella.
Continue reading “All the Dead Brollys! Umbrellas in Japan”

Adventuring with Willard Glazier: Afloat Down the Mighty, Muddy Mississippi

Into this setting paddled Captain Willard Glazier, something of a publicity hound, and eager to have his name linked with the likes of De Soto, La Salle, and surely most appropriately, Hennepin, as an explorer of the Mississippi. Glazier also wrote about Intercontinental horse travel.

Change was afoot back then in the closing third of the 1800s. In Paris, Joseph Oller, who began his career routinizing wagering at cockfights in Catalonia—previously a chaotic process— predicted the path of contemporary entertainment by opening the Moulin Rouge. Importantly, if perhaps less so, Charles M. Hall invented a cheap way to extract aluminum, precipitating a drop in cost from $5 a pound to 18 cents by the time it was implemented. Perhaps undone, but never outdone, back in the States the improbable Brooklyn Bridge was thrown across the turgid East River. Happily, Twain’sLife on the Mississippirolled hot and toasty off the presses of that day. In the thick stream of it all, explorer Willard Glazier announced he’d found the real source of the father of waters, the big muddy. The mighty Mississippi.  And his boat, Alice, is on display at the Madisonville Museum, in Madisonville, Louisiana, to this very day.

Continue reading “Adventuring with Willard Glazier: Afloat Down the Mighty, Muddy Mississippi”

Kyoto: City of Charm, Grace, and Variety


“A designated National Special Historic Site, Kinkaku-ji or Golden Pavilion is one of Japan’s most popular buildings and is a fantastic example of garden design from the Muromachi period. . . . The temple was originally known as Rokuonji and was where the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu retired, becoming a Rinzai sect Zen temple . . . after his 1408 death. An impressive building overlooking a spacious pond, Golden Pavilion is the only structure left of the shogun’s retirement complex.”

Intellectually, visitors know Japan is an ancient culture, its crafts of elegant textiles and fabulous hand-made objects, its cuisine apparently insanely elaborated, its religions impossibly attenuated. Yet that weight of the ages is not clear in the briskly run efficiency of the rapid transit system. That’s especially true if you are waiting for a “fast train” in Kyoto’s award-winning station and gander at several others shoot through the place to points unknown. Or in the conversation of one’s bilingual passerby’s plying global careers. The young men wear international motley, the young women (during our visit, but the fashion changes monthly) knee-high needle-heeled boots. Or, everyone is swathed in sports gear, which largely effaces ethnicity or sexuality.

Continue reading “Kyoto: City of Charm, Grace, and Variety”

Blooming Beautiful in the Boot State

Many of the wildflowers which ribbon the roadways with vivid chrome yellow, signal red, lush lavender, fusia, white, variegated mottlings are naturalized. Many are native. Some are recent exotics, transplanted carelessly, or escapees from commercial cultivation. Others jumped ship with ballast back in sailing days, or were stowaways in more recent excelsior and packing material.

Much of Louisiana is alluvial soil, rich stuff dropped over the millennia when flood water slowed to a crawl in the spring, creating ridges, or levees, at frontlands, and backlands of low, fertile lands fringed with back swamps. No wonder drivers, bikers, canoeists/kayakers, hikers and other travelers in the Atchafalaya River Basin region so often remark about the explosion of color which accompanies the regular germination of each season’s wildflower bloom. Wildflowers are often said to be herbaceous plants with pretty blooms, but, as authority Clair Brown does, some include common plants on the lam from cultivation—such as Cherokee rose (Rosa laevigta) and clovers as well as woody species.

Continue reading “Blooming Beautiful in the Boot State”

Some Like It Hot

Chile is the colorful fruit (it is technically not a vegetable) of the Capsicumplant, also called a pepper (that’s a jalapeños above). This is not at all the same as black pepper, which is usually a powder made by grinding peppercorns, the fruit of the Piperaceae plant.

Tabasco, South Louisiana’s long-time bad boy of fermented hot sauces, and Panola, once North Louisiana’s relative newcomer, have been joined in a burgeoning marketplace with dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of other peppery products in recent decades. In some ways, this diffuse range of offerings underscores Louisiana’s role as compass rose to all things hot and splashable on food. Indeed, often enough recipes simply call for a particular brand of Louisiana hot sauce. Other times food authors just direct consumers to anyLouisiana hot sauce. In fact, screen writer Peter Viertel recalls Hemingway describing success in the culinary arts, “First,” he’d say, “you take Tabasco sauce . . .” 

Continue reading “Some Like It Hot”

Japan’s Hakone Park: A View of Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan, standing at 3,776 meters (12,380 feet). It is an active volcano sitting on a “triple junction” of tectonic activity: the Amurian plate (associated with the Eurasian tectonic plate), the Okhotsk plate (associated with the North American plate) and the Filipino plate all converge in the region beneath Mount Fuji. It is only 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Tokyo, Japan’s capital.

Less than a hundred kilometers from teeming Tokyo, Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, internationally famous for hot springs (including Owakudani), hiking and outdoor activities, majestic natural beauty and fabulous views of nearby Mount Fuji is deservedly one of the most popular destinations for visitors and Japanese alike. Well served with and by mass transit, including on Lake Ashi, the big park offers tourists a range of choices in addition to scenic outlooks, including the opportunity of lengthening their lives by seven years!

Continue reading “Japan’s Hakone Park: A View of Mount Fuji”

Le Mans: Cobbles and Chrome

LeMans, France, once capital of Maine and currently prefecture of the Sarth, is certainly most famous for its intoxicating mid-summer 24-hour race. Steadily gaining notoriety since its beginning in 1906, and guaranteed legend status by the invention of the now-defunct Le Mans start, the event instantly calls to mind the image of drivers scrambling across the tarmac, leaping into their cars and roaring off. “Gentlemen,” the loudspeaker would boom and crackle, “start your engines!”

Continue reading “Le Mans: Cobbles and Chrome”

Chopin, Hemingway, Faulkner, and the French Quarter: Literary Tourism & Cultural Capital

Canal Street, Edge of the Vieux Carre or French Quarter, New Orleans

In 1917, when H.L. Mencken published his damning “Sahara of the Bozart,” a pair of New Orleanians, Julius Weis Friend and Albert Goldstein, were stimulated into action, launching their now sadly long forgotten literary journal, The DoubleDealer, to counter Mencken’s criticisms of the South as a Wasteland. William Faulkner temporarily relocated to New Orleans after WWI, and soon afterwards published his piece “Portrait,” in The Double Dealer, with a poem by Ernest Hemingway under it. 

Continue reading “Chopin, Hemingway, Faulkner, and the French Quarter: Literary Tourism & Cultural Capital”

In Hot Water Again

 Years ago, on the flight over from the United States to Japan I began reading Alexia Brue’s Cathedrals of the Flesh: My Search for the Perfect Bath, which I’d recommend to anyone.  If you know me, you’d know that I, too, have traveled the globe seeking out bath options of various kinds, enjoying sampling local soaks, trying the town barber, and swilling the local martinis as assiduously as a cat pushing a glass from a table. You will immediately understand my affection for this small, witty book. Hot water? Hey, I’m in it.

Maybe my own quest began as long ago as high school, when we would cut class – in California they say “ditch class” – to go up to the thermal seeps in the rocky gorges above Palm Springs. Sitting in a beat-up claw footed tub wedged in the sandstone with nekkid girls is good Zen training, if I recall rightly with my declining faculties. 

Continue reading “In Hot Water Again”