Archives for posts with tag: culture

Meet the Family Stone: Mi, Kika and Iwa.

The cute factor of this Japanese postcard is undeniable. Order, politeness and respect…all align with common behavior by the good people from this island nation. The positive “look, listen, talk” seems a modern twist on the time-tested “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” Which got me wondering why monkeys always figured in this maxim.

All is not clear on this front. Wikipedia dug deep for me on this one. Turns out that during a Japanese folk religious observance (Kōshin) around the 1500s, monkeys graced stone pillars. Who knows why. What is known is that –zaru, an antiquated verb suffix to express negation, sounds the same as saru for “monkey.” The Japanese version — “Mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru” or “don’t see, don’t hear, don’t speak” — has the added possibility of being the names of the threesome.

Another interpretation attributes the monkeys’ presence to their importance in the Shinto religion, which influenced the folk rite. As if monkeys weren’t enough, even worms squirm into the interpretation picture. And, rewinding way on back, a similar Chinese phrase, “Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety.” just might be the original. Lucky for us, we can often count on the Japanese to minify and cutify things.


Abelmoschus esculentus: Okra, no jokra!

Summer is not summer without crisp fried okra, the ultimate comfort food. I cooked up a mess last night. I was lazy (and hungry), because usually I’ll first coat the cut seed pods with a whisked egg and then cornmeal before plopping them in Spanish olive oil. A high-fiber alternative to buttered popcorn. Savory crunchiness. Texture is everything!

The word “okra” comes to English via the West African language, Akan. Should you be traveling the globe and get a hankering for such goodness, which also goes by lady’s fingers and gumbo, here’s a handy-dandy cheat sheet of how to get what you want (note the linguistic similarities):

Brazil (Portuguese): quiabo
Czech Republic (Czech): zelenina
France (French): gombo
India (Hindi/Urdu): bhindi, bhendi or bendai
Italy (Italian): gombo or abelmosco (check out the Latin heritage)
Nigeria (Igbo): ọkwurụ
Russia (Russian): okpa
Spain (Spanish): quingombó or calalú
Sub-Sahara(Bantu): kingombo
Turkey (Turkish): sebze

1944 Wheat Penny.

Eyes peeled for a wheat penny…or better. That’s me alright. Recently one came my way. The thrills of paying in cash! U.S. coins were so much classier a century ago. Even today’s stamps have succumbed to the same sad state of bland design watered down further by ubiquitous political correctness.

In fact, the original one-cent piece saw a lot of changes in its 51-year run. When it was first issued in 1909, it was about the same size as a current half-dollar. Initials of the designer, Victor D. Bremer, were on the reverse, moving in 1918 to the front on Lincoln’s shoulder. During WWII, the 1943 steel cent was popular as a copper replacement. What with the metal thieves’ zeal these days (they stole my copper wire flowers from my front yard), it’s curious why so many pennies are still in circulation. I guess the criminals are purists.

Second-hand with first-hand awareness.

It makes my day when I stumble upon verbal quirkiness. This store was called something else before, something I can’t quite remember. Will I forget it now? Despite the risk of being so closely tied to another brand, given the goods sold here, the name is superb and will have legs longer than the show or the ladies themselves.

Laurel Grove North (Savannah, Georgia)

Today is All Souls’ Day. To some it is the Day of the Dead (“El día de los muertos” or “El día de los difuntos”). Despite the name, it is a happy, not-so-solemn occasion. As a follow-on and complement to yesterday’s All Saints’ Day, which commemorates children, this is a time to honor deceased adults.

Bonaventure Cemetery

You can tell a lot about people and their culture by learning how they bury their dead. Cemeteries fascinate me for that reason. Today is All Saints’ Day. In Mexico, November 1 is also called “El día de los inocentes” (Day of the Innocents) or “El día de los angelitos” (Day of the Little Angels) in honor of children and infants.

These little girls look like they were born and died about a year apart from one another (1860 and 1861). Fall babies who both were taken away in the Spring. Mary at 1.5 years and Emma at 4.5 months. This is one of the prettiest memorials to children I have seen. At over 150 years old, the details and legibility are outstanding.

Ascending danger.

Happy Haunting from the Moomins! Now, get your screechy, spooky, frightening scare on.

If you don’t know who the Moomin family and its quirky friends are, you’re not too old to find out! For a taste of what you’re missing, check out their crazy but meaning-laden names. If that isn’t enough, read the adventures of the hippo-resembling main characters yourself in one of Tove Jansson’s many books. It’s masterful storytelling that knows no audience age limit. Playful, offbeat creatures with a sinister streak.

To indulge, fortunately, there is no need to know Finnish. Nope, the lady’s published in over 30 languages. Here’s an image of Tove herself together with some of her adorable protagonists.

And, hats off to Oy Moomin Characters Ltd., that tightly manages the creative rights of what began as a one-woman show. Thankfully, the brand has not succumbed to being Disney-fied. It’s as magical as ever. Just ask any Japanese.

…three if by iceberg.

I recently read a food-writing classic on the stories and history behind nine of the world’s most common foods. Want to know more about corn, salt, butter, chicken, rice, lettuce, olive oil, lemon juice or ice cream? Thanks to Margaret Visser, you can…in her 1986 Much Depends on Dinner. Each chapter is either a dish or garnish; in their totality, they make for a meal and some full-course reading.

I enjoyed learning how Iceberg lettuce landed its name. The miniature bowling ball-sized “heads” we now know as such were originally called Imperial, from the namesake California valley in which they (and other hybrids) were first concocted by R&D labs set on turning out lettuce to compete against the then popular New York varietal.

Lettuce was and is subject to militant-sounding perishability. According to Visser, these include brown blight, downy mildew, cabbage loopers, fleabeetles, thrips and armyworms (none of which I’d like to share my sleeping bag with). Add to those hazards the “field-to-table” distance factor that brings on rotting in transit and wilting while waiting, and you can see that “Imperial” was not combat-ready for the war on spoilage. As well, given that this research was taking place from the late 1920’s to the 1940’s, nor was the name (even with its alphanumeric versions) culturally suitable to a relatively young, heavily first-generation, immigrant nation.

What to do? Reach back to another American variety (a red-tinged leaf) called Iceberg that had initially been dismissed for its lack of commercial value. Nothing like repurposing an underutilized verbal asset. “Green” at its freshest, creative best. The name stuck like a wet tongue on a wintry metal pole.

Land of the Thunder Dragon

There is more happiness in Drukville, or as the Bhutanese call their country, Druk Yul (“druk” means thunder dragon.). The royal wedding took place today, October 13, the 16th day of the 8th Bhutanese month. It is an auspicious day, a “good day to propitiate god and deities, do Chagu, learn astrology, give promotion, shift house, start new business, name places and villages, deposit wealth, meet superiors, sow seeds, plant plants and flowers.” (It is “not a good day to do charity work in the name of the deceased.”) The first of a three-day national celebration. But, don’t take my word for it. Read about the traditional religious ceremony here. To the royal couple, I send a virtual butter lamp, a khadhar offering and prayers for Their Majesties’ long-lived happiness.


The first few times I experienced this store, I was impressed. That was a decade or thereabouts in Seattle. Time has been relatively good to this brand, but I am not their target audience (if I ever was). I used to enjoy the mix of seemingly old and new, different labels under one “house,” and the discovery that was always a part of their brand. Just seems that they’ve been on a slide to bland. The clothes look and feel much cheaper now, there’s too much of it out (the racks are clogged). The need to hit the refresh button. The merch is increasingly poorly sewn, knit designs are stamped instead of woven, the countries of origin of the independent labels are more and more those hawking cheap labor, the fabrics are flimsy and lack hand, the amount and sizes of goods put on sale reflect a disconnect with the knowledge of their audiences. The one constant is the catalogs — amazingly concepted and shot — and learning about the occasional label that is one-of-a-kind, sometimes from former Anthropologists. The ‘logs “transport” you, even though they keep their locations a secret, which is silly. Their online vintage offerings are remarkable particularly with respect pricing. The stores are still fun for a quick walk-through now and then, less now and more then.

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