bigger pond

Archive for the 'Americana' Category

I Just Wanted the Internets To See This

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Noel accompanied me to Austin where I gave a paper at the University of Texas Graduate Student American Studies Annual Conference. The conference was not-so-great, but Austin certainly lived up to its billing of being very, very weird.

We wandered along South Congress, popping at will into stores that existed solely to disseminate kitsch to the masses. One of the stores, Uncommon Objects, was essentially a collection of grandmother’s attics, just organized by color. There were old ratty hats, alphabet rubber stamps, photographs of now-anonymous people, cloisonne canisters, antique typewriters, vintage umbrellas, yellowed books, weathered shoe horns, battered chests, beaded evening bags, creepy stuffed dolls and, yes, this hat:

And that is my husband’s hair, all mad-scientist-cowboy, crystal-ball-meets-rodeo, afro-wig-inside-a-hat. Now, only slightly more frightening than the fact that this exists and that we decided to put it on Noel’s impertinently curly head, is the realization that more than one of these exists.

It’s not too late to get him a birthday present.

Lost in the ‘Burbs

Monday, August 25th, 2008

A week and a half ago I was in Houston, helping with preparations for the imminent Weichbrodt-Hudson nuptials. Every time I am in Houston I am filled with renewed trepidation over the in-laws neighborhood. It’s lovely, of course, but it’s also a Houston suburbs’ subdivision. Despite having visited numerous times over the course of the past three and a half years, I am remarkably unable to maintain any sense of cardinal directions or relative location once we enter the sprawling land of pale-red-and-cream houses in well-manicured cul-de-sacs with nice names. It’s all:

And I’m all:

And yet, on this particular morning, I decided to go running. By myself.

I conscientiously charted a route on mapmyrun.com, left a note announcing my early morning departure, and brought along my cell phone. I was certain that this was being overly cautious and that surely, sixty minutes later, I would be back home and eating breakfast with the fam.

This did not happen.

Things progressed smoothly for the first forty minutes. Other than the intermittent disappearance of sidewalks (Digression: Why, in the name of urban planning, did subdivision gods deem it wise to randomly dispense of sidewalks along routes that, at their onset, seemed so very promising and cheerful-neighborhood-like?), my planned loop appeared to be, well, looping. And then, with very little warning, the sidewalk and most other signs of established housing vanished, leaving me running on damp grass next to a rather busy road flanked by expanses of pine trees. Hopeful, I pressed onward, waiting to see those rows of pale-red-and-cream homes re-emerge. Instead, I arrived at a strange T-intersection where street signs declared a state-of-being not revealed on my map and the litter-filled shoulder fell short of happy suburb land.

Unsure of which way to proceed, I called Noel, keeper of the iPhone, who was still back in St. Louis. I described the situation. I gave my cross streets. He Google Mapped. He told me the name of another intersection. I insisted that those were not my cross streets. He told me my cross streets did not, in the world of Google Maps, actually cross. He switched to satellite view and, low and behold, the trusty pictures from orbit showed my current location under construction. Directions were still a bit tentative after that but, half an hour later, I did manage to find the correct pale-red-and-cream house in the correct coyly named cul-de-sac and, most importantly, eat breakfast.

And this what the world is coming to. The suburbs are growing too fast for even Google to keep up. How are runners to remain safe?

In Which We Meet Some Sumo Wrestlers

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

So, some friends from Hawaii, Gavin and Hannah, recently moved to Ames, Iowa so that Gavin could attend vet school. To be perfectly frank, there’s not a whole lot going on in Ames, so the Ganzers took a Labor Day road trip to the Gateway City.

Koi Peek a boo

Now, if you have ever thought, “Self, why would I want to spend Labor Day weekend in St. Louis?” the answer is embarrassingly simple: Japanese Cultural Festival. And as if it wasn’t already a fabulous idea to get thousands of people together to celebrate my ancestral culture, the good folks at the Missouri Botanical Gardens decided to take things one step further.

They added sumo.

Longtime readers will remember that I have a (necessarily large) warm spot in my heart for sumo. Having it at the cultural festival is seriously a stroke of genius.

And so, there we were. Three Hawaii kids and one supportive Oklahoman/Texan, sitting on the lawn at the botanical gardens, watching the Hawaii-born sumotori be introduced to the 800+ crowd. After the wrestlers cracked a few fat jokes, they asked for a brave volunteer from the audience. And, of course, Gavin offered. What followed was, quite possibly, one of the most magical things we’ve experienced since moving to St. Louis. Consider:

The wardrobe The pressTiming The growlThe lift The carry

Thankfully, there was a rematch.

The chase

So, pretty much it was awesome. Make your reservations now if you want to come with us next year. If you promise to wrestle the sumotori, we’ll pay for your entrance fee.
Train Hard, Eat Plenny

Raising Kids Without Race

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

Towards the end of the semester, discussion in my 1930s class rabbit-trailed to more contemporary debates that left me uneasy and rather at odds with the practical outworkings of contemporary theories on race. At it’s pithiest incarnation, the question was such: should the white, adoptive parents of a Guatemalan child raise that child to know Spanish? The implications may run deeper than you think.

If you teach a dark-haired, almond-eyed child to speak Guatemalan even though she is living in a Caucasian community, what are you saying about race? Do we assume that, simply because of biology, the girl will have some sort of affinity for the language? If she will never live in Guatemala, is it inauthentic to teach her to like Chiles Rellenos when her adoptive parents just eat steak and potatoes? If you teach her Spanish and culture, are you simply caving to the folks who will profile her by appearance and assume that she must speak another tongue? Are you giving in to racism?
Currently, critical race theory is the defacto position of most academics. It posits that race is purely a social construction that people “perform.” In other words, there are no inherent character vices or strengths that accompany the DNA that makes someone’s skin yellow or hair curly. African Americans are not naturally energetic. Japanese Americans are not naturally conscientious. Caucasians are not naturally adventurous. Instead, any shared characteristics in groups of people who share biological race are the results of social conditioning. I mimic those around me. I act “white” — as I have seen it performed — when I want to be perceived as “white.” I act “Japanese-American” when I am expected to do so.

The attraction of this theory is, of course, that it firmly repudiates the dangerous xenophobic and racist logic of, say, the Third Reich. Where I get stuck, however, is in its actual practice.

We are all culture-bound image-bearers. At first consideration, I suppose that statement could fit nicely with critical race theory. Yet, I wonder if part of recognizing our tie to culture is to acknowledge and confront, rather than theoretically deny, the ways that race has shaped our current relationships. I think it’s worth it for a Guatemalan girl — even one raised in Missouri — to know how cultural, historical perceptions of race play into the ‘need’ for her to be adopted in the first place. It’s worth explaining to her why people might speak slowly and loudly to her and why some day she’ll have trouble finding makeup that matches her skin tone. Can you really raise kids without race?

A Fortnight’s Preparation for a Pacific Journey

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

Back when my predilection for historical fiction was deep and true, I used to revel in the unending descriptions of “preparations” for heading west. I can’t entirely explain this fascination, but I adored the lists of supplies and the painstaking details of curing meat and finishing quilts. I had no idea what 10 yards of blue calico looked like but, by golly, I knew you needed it out west.

And why should the farthest west be any different? Packing to go home to Hawaii can be something of an endeavor. About two or three weeks out, my mom approaches me with a list of goods she needs me to transport to her island home. Most of her requests are for gifts, but they’re all items you can’t get in Hawaii: Bath and Body soaps, Trader Joe’s bottled bruschetta, packages of dried cherries, and canned boysenberries. Oh, and really cheap Gap t-shirts. While the list’s content generally remains steady, quantities fluctuate — or generally trend upwards — for the remaining time until my departure.

Though the time allowance may seem generous, you have to allow for the unexpected. Trader Joe’s might only have six bottles when I need twelve. I need to locate bubble wrap. Canned boysenberries can be hard to find and require grocery store hopping. Suitcases need to be weighed, but we don’t have a scale. How, exactly, does one pack a dozen bottles of antibacterial soap in assorted scents to prevent leakage? And, by golly, someone needs to get those 10 yards of blue calico.

Where Spaghetti and E-mail Grow Free

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

By now, many of you likely know that our friends at Coptix pulled an April Fool’s joke on most of the free world. Despite the clear opportunistic brilliance and attempt at self-parody, the prank’s targets were far from amused.

I guess some folks are fairly embarrassed by the whole kerfuffle, but I don’t think bitter defensiveness is necessary. Being duped by an April Fool’s Day joke doesn’t mean you’re dumb. You might be British, though.

Elissa’s Great Northern Adventures, part ii, or, “What If Your Great Grandmother Thinks You Married a Pagan?”

Monday, January 8th, 2007

I thought the visit was going so well. G-grandma and I seemed to have bonded; once I located a voice pitch which agreed with her hearing aid, we played gin, discussed Ukranian egg painting, and hashed out assorted family ethnic backgrounds.

And then, then came Christmas Eve.

On Sunday evening we all sat down to a traditional, Ukranian Christmas Eve dinner. Following Russian Orthodox tradition, the multi-course affair was meatless, consisting mostly of soups, perogies, and breads. There was hay under the tablecloth to remind us of the stable, a braided ring of bread to remind us of the Trinity, and a raw clove of garlic chased with honey to remind us of sin’s sting and redemption’s sweetness. G-grandma and I were on opposite ends of the table, but as dinner wound down she called down to me, “So, do the Japanese have any Christmas traditions?”

(more…)

Elissa’s Great Northern Adventures, part 1.5

Monday, January 8th, 2007

Someday, children, when you visit the upper peninsula of Michigan and go to your husband’s great-grandmother’s old lakeside resort, you may find that the new owner, in a lapse of taste, has installed an oversized wooden lounge chair on the front lawn.

Memories Gone Tacky  Part Two

If, at this time, you happen to be wearing a large, furry hat from Mongolia and borrowing your sister-in-law’s baby blue Uggs, it is imperative that you take a picture of the cumulative ridiculousness. Posterity will be grateful.

Finding Joy on Hwy 24

Thursday, January 4th, 2007

Behold, an attempt to match the outstandingly cheesy mottos of small Illinois and Indiana towns with an equally cheesy blog post title.

Noel and I spent Christmas with his family in the northern reaches of the country, Cedarville, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula. Instead of sticking to interstates on our drive up, we temporarily ventured onto a string a state highways, rolling through a sweep of modest hamlets with ambitious shibboleths emblazoned on their welcome signs.

In Piper City, Illinois, red cartoon letters above a cheerful drawing of a farmhouse announced, “Piper City. A great place to raise a family.” We’re in. Our other choice is currently the most dangerous city in America anyway. When we entered Iroquois County, Illinois, we were welcomed to the “Buckle of the Corn Belt.” Hitherto being unaware that there was a “corn belt,” we wondered if this was a new, religion-neutral fight for supremacy in mid-America. Kentland, Indiana proudly declared themselves to be “Where agriculture and industry meet.” Morocco, Indiana (town symbol, a cowboy boot) refused to capitalize on the exoticism of their borrowed name and instead billed themselves as “the home of Hoosier Hospitality.”

And then, we entered Michigan. “Great Lakes, Great Times.” Ohhhh, yeah. And fun times, indeed, were promised by the subsequent towns. St. Joseph, Michigan, “the most romantic city in Michigan.” Downtown Holland, Michigan, “where trend meets tradition.” And, finally, Munson in Traverse City, “your home, your Munson.” (Don’t ask, we have no idea.)

I wonder if Stamats moonlights as a town slogan creator.