Friday, September 18, 2009

Puff, Leaving...

I'm sorry to see that Mary Travers of the 60s group Peter, Paul, and Mary has passed away. There's plenty of detailed information on the 'net for anyone interested in her, or the group's, history. I just thought I'd mention that even for a pretty hard-core hard rock lover like me, Puff the Magic Dragon and Leaving on a Jet Plane stand out in memory of the 60s and early 70s, and Mary's part of the three-part harmony stands out particularly.

An awful lot of my Vietnam War-era peers have memories, poignant or otherwise, with Leaving on a Jet Plane as the background music.

"I don't know when I'll be back again
Oh, babe, I hate to go."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cast Iron Memories

My first reaction was amusement when I saw a news story about a guy in Kumamoto who hit a "male relative" (bother-in-law, maybe?)for interfering in a fight with his wife.

The amusement's probably the result of having watched too many cartoons as a child.

Then, I noticed that the victim, although he had "injuries to his nose and face", was expected to take only a week to heal. That frequently used phrase in the Japanese media means quite minor injuries: scrapes, bruises, superficial cuts, and the like.

When I was growing up in San Francisco, learning to cook from my mother and grandmothers, "frying pan" or "skillet" meant a big, black, heavy, cast iron pan that required considerable strength just to carry, not to mention picking up and flipping to turn pancakes over. They were great for cooking all sorts of dishes, and very versatile, too. They weren't the sort of thing you'd want to get hit in the face with, though, for sure.

These days pretty much all the pots and pans in most kitchens are aluminum, with maybe a little stainless steel here and there, or copper for those who can afford the expense and the time to care for it. With the advent of practical non-stick surfaces, it has become pretty hard to find those heavy old cast iron frying pans, and I suspect that people who know/remember how to "season" those pots properly have become somewhat scarce, too.

I certainly don't see that sort of pan much in Japan; the closest thing is probably the ubiquitous Chinese-style woks, the best of which are indeed iron, and are seasoned similarly, but they're still a lot lighter than the pans I grew up with. I'm quite sure that I could find all the cast iron pans I could want on a trip to Kappabashi, but they'd likely be pretty expensive, and I don't cook as often as I used to, and storage space is a problem...and I'm lazy, too.

Anyway, I should thank the irate farmer in Kumamoto for reminding me of those great old skillets from my childhood. And his victim should thank whatever kind fate put a lighter frying pan in the hands of the assailant. I never seriously considered a cast iron frying pan as a weapon--there are many more deadly and easily used implements in a kitchen--but getting hit several times in the face/head by one, even if the wielder is drunk, could be expected to cause a lot more than minor injuries.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cycle Clowns

Twice in only about 12 hours, I encountered bicyclists who--had they been more competent--might have qualified as trainee clowns for the next circus that comes to town. Unfortunately, both had an audience of only me, but I tried to make up for the lack of numbers by my enthusiasm.

Last night, a 20-something bicyclist riding 15 or 20 meters ahead of me was busily engaged in a conversation on his cell phone as he pedaled along. He was, predictably, weaving a bit, so I kept well back on the narrow road, waiting for a wider, safer place to pass him. This gave me a good view of his unintentional acrobatic act.

Apparently he didn't see the line of meter-high plastic poles set fence-like around a roadside safety zone. At first, briefly, I thought he might be intending to do a slalom among the poles, but I should have known better. Oblivious, he rode right into the poles, getting tangled up among them while still pedaling furiously. His attention finally switched from his phone to his bicycle and the road, around the time that the bike went down and he went over the handlebars and into the rest of the line of semi-flexible posts, cell phone still clutched tightly in his hand, mouth agape in surprise.

I stopped next to him as he tried to disentangle himself from the bent but springy posts and his tangled bicycle.

"Are you OK?" I asked.

"Yes," he answered, "I guess so."

"That's too bad," I said, "because I was hoping you'd been damaged enough to learn a lesson from this." As I rode off he still didn't seem to understand how he'd gotten into his predicament. Maybe next time he'll drive off a cliff and do the human gene pool a favor.

Not too many hours later, as I was riding down a major thoroughfare to my office, another 20-ish bicyclist sped through a red light and right in front of my motorcycle. I barely managed to swerve, avoid him, and stop. He lost control of his bicycle and fell down with it tangled up with his legs. I suppose he was surprised to see this big, bearded foreigner on a big black motorcycle appear magically in front of least, I imagine it must have seemed that way to him, since he hadn't looked either way as he went to cross the intersection, and presumably either didn't see or else ignored the traffic signals, too.

I helped him up (not gently, but firmly...very firmly) and off to the side of the road; he wasn't hurt but was rather disoriented.

"What happened?" he asked.

"You stupidly went through a red light, and if I hadn't swerved around you I would have hit you. You seem to have lost control and fallen with your bicycle. You're lucky I didn't run you over. You're also lucky that my motorbike isn't damaged, because if it had been, I would have put you in the hospital, and it wouldn't have been an accident." I'm afraid that my tone was probably pretty vicious. My facial expression probably wasn't really encouraging and kindly, either.

"I'm sorry," he said, "I'll be more careful in the future and stop at red lights."

"Please don't do that," I said, as I got on my bike to ride away. "By all means run through another red light very soon, but please do it in front of a big truck, or better still an express train."

The memory of the look on his face kept me happy for the rest of the morning.