I talked with the good people at Bayou Magazine, in New Orleans, about writing, nonfiction and publishing.
Source: Interview with Aaron Gilbreath
I wrote about the beauty and reality of, the mysteries and misunderstandings about, our fantastic neighbor Canada. Don’t worry Canada, we aren’t all moving there anytime soon.
In a box in my basement, I keep a small bag of letters from my Canadian friend Dayna. We got tight in high school in Phoenix, Arizona, but after she moved back home to Calgary, Alberta, we corresponded by mail. Growing up, cars with Manitoba and Saskatchewan license plates filled my city’s streets during the mild desert winters. “Another snowbird,” my dad would say from behind the wheel. “Be nice to them. They’re good for the economy.” Dayna was the first Canada I actually got to know.
For four years, Dayna and I kept in touch by exchanging mixtapes and letters filled with our teenage obsessions. Hers also contained tantalizing visions of a foreign land. She called dorks “knobs” and heavy-metal kids “bangers.” In the photos Dayna and her friends sent, their cars shimmered with a crystalline sheen and you could see their breath. It all seemed so exotic.
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In honor of National Taco Day, I wrote about what Del Taco meant to me as an Arizona kid obsessed with California but land-locked in Phoenix, at The Smart Set. Here’s how the essay “Cheddar Suns Rising Over Lettuce Mountains” begins:
The day my friend Rich bought a Del Taco T-shirt from an employee was the day I realized that my fixation with the fast food Mexican chain was about more than beans. Back then, in 1993, I was an 18-year-old Arizonan obsessed with California beach culture. I owned a boogie board that I used one week a year. I wore vintage Hang Ten and Hobie surf tees that I found at Phoenix thrift stores. I favored Van’s and cutoffs, and I rode a late ’60s red and white Schwinn beach cruiser whose sleek beauty and tall white walls had strangers yelling “Hey, Pee Wee Herman!” at me on the street. If the southern California coast was the center of my landlocked universe, then Del Taco was a bright star in my sky. What did I know? Fresh out of high school and uncertain about the future, I was searching for an identity. All I knew for certain was that I wanted to live on the beach.
We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in specific categories. Here, the best in arts and culture writing.
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Senior writer with Sportsnet magazine
Stephen Colbert has pulled off the rare feat of being a public figure for the better part of a decade while keeping his true self almost entirely obscured behind a braying façade. Here, with such uncommon intelligence, sensitivity and nuance, Joel Lovell shows us who’s been under there the whole time. The writer is very present in the story, sifting through the meaning of what he finds and tugging us along behind him through reporting and writing that starts out rollicking and then turns surprisingly raw and emotional. But Lovell never gets in his own way or turns self-indulgent; that’s a tough thing to…
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I wrote a longform story about the Sacramento instrumental band the Tiki Men. They came up in the 1990s, during the West Coast surf music revival, and they recorded two of the best 45s in the genre I’ve ever heard, just pure, powerful, catchy. The guitar tone is epic.
Below are the opening graphs. You can read the rest of the story, and see previously unpublished photos, here at Medium.
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In 1958, when guitarist Link Wray poked pencil holes in his amplifier to record the song “Rumble,” he was only trying to muddy his guitar tone. Link’s impromptu modification ended up creating a distortion-heavy brand of rock and roll that not only paved the way for punk rock, heavy metal, the Who, you name it, but also lifted the lowly rock instrumental, or “instro,” into the popular consciousness, fueling a style that thrives to this day. What Coltrane is to jazz and Howlin’ Wolf is to blues, Link is to rock in general, and so-called surf instrumentals in particular.
Bob Dylan knew this when he called “Rumble” “the greatest instrumental ever.” John Lennon went further and said, “Gene Vincent and Link Wray are the two great unknowns of rock and roll.” The irony? “The only reason I was doing instrumentals,” Link once said, “was because I couldn’t sing.” He’d lost a lung to tuberculosis contracted during the Korean War, which made it hard to catch his breath.
In early 1993, Scott Miller, Micah Kennedy, and Pete Husing, three friends in Sacramento, CA, went to see the Phantom Surfers play Old Ironsides, a small down- town club that was also the center of what little garage scene then existed in California’s capital. Pete, a guitar player, had suggested the show. Even though Scott and Micah were longtime music obsessives whose broad tastes included everything from pop to the Kinks, John Fahey to Blue Cheer, Pete was the sole surf music fan of the group. For Scott, a drummer, the show proved revolutionary.
I was riding my bike home last summer when a homeless man laying down at a bus stop yelled, “Nice surfer shirt!”
I flashed a thumbs up as I passed and howled, “Thanks!”
I have a closet full of striped tees like the one I was wearing, some vintage 1960s and ’70s, some reproductions. I’ve worn this style shirt, off and on, for nearly half of my thirty-seven years. I discovered them while thrifting in early high school in my native Arizona, yet I’d never stopped to consider: who invented them? How did they evolve over time? And what makes a striped tee a “surfer shirt,” anyway?
The Hang Ten clothing company set the surf tee standard. The produced the first surf wear clothing line, and were the first to popularize the striped tee in the gaudy colors and color combinations we associate with the 1960s and early ’70s: orange against lime green; brown paired with mustard yellow; yellow paired with turquoise; purple cut with white and pink bands. Along with classic beach culture icons such as Dick Dale, Gidget, Rat Fink and The Beach Boys, the tacky striped patterns helped define the look of the era. The Brady kids wore the shirts on The Brady Bunch. Brothers Kevin and Wayne Arnold wore them on the period piece The Wonder Years. Depending on your age, your parents probably wore them. (Check your family photos.) According to a 1992 LA Times article, the Hang Ten company kept their original, iconic, eye-catching shirt patterns on file.
Contrary to reason, the guiding design principle seemed to be: the gaudier the better. And somehow that approach worked. The best shirts possess the quality that Thelonious Monk references in his song “Ugly Beauty.” Op and Hobie made them. Striped surfer tees were so popular that mainstream companies such as JC Penny, Sears and Montgomery Ward evenmade them, along with a litany of forgotten off-brands like Wentworth. (I have a Wentworth shirt that is a work of freak art.)
Although they eventually fell out of fashion by the late-70s, in some ways, these shirts never completely went away. Any longtime thrifter has run into at least one on a resale rack. There was a brief revival in the early ’90s, when Hang Ten released a line of reproductions after company executives noticed kids in Newport Beach, California sporting vintage Hang Ten shirts with a particular zeal. The bold stripe pattern, both collared and pocket tees, have been experiencing a bit of a moment during the last year, worn by people in the beach pop and garage-pyshe set, some of whom style themselves after ’70s Bowery punks like The Ramones; examples include Nobunny, The Mean Jeans, Jeff The Brotherhood. And Russell Quan, drummer for the legendary Mummies as well as a billion other San Fran garage bands, seems to have been born in one: (See here and here.)
Here’s a cool history of the Hang Ten brand: http://surfcrazy.com/stanleys/hangtenhistory/HangTHistory7080%5B1%5D.htm
And a 2008 article about how Kohl’s was going to revive the Hang Ten brand: http://www.jsonline.com/business/29461529.html
Posted in Travel, Uncategorized, tagged bibimbap, cha, China, Daechucha, Japan, Japanse tea, jujube, kimchi, Korean tea, Mogwacha, Omijacha, sencha, Seoul, South Korea, Sujeonggwa, tea, Yujacha on May 31, 2013| 7 Comments »
Talk of tea usually revolves around China or Japan. These countries boast innumerable varieties and ancient tea-making traditions. South Korea does, too, yet you hear less if anything about them. What you also don’t hear about are their tisanes.
For a nation the size of Portugal, Korea produces a staggering number of herbal and fruit teas. Pine pollen and honey tea. Ginseng, ginger and jujube tea. Infusions made from roasted corn and Job’s Tears. Such variety makes sense when you consider the richness of their landscape: both hardwood deciduous and coniferous forests filled with fruits, roots, nuts, seeds, blossoms, leaves, herbs and berries. All make appearances in their teas. Occasionally I set aside the sencha and mao feng in order to indulge in Hanguk’s overlooked beverage pleasure dome. To spread the word, I wanted to tell other tea drinkers about Korea’s incredible tisanes and suggest Seoul teashops where travelers can try them. Seoul’s Insadong district offers the best place to start an exploration, because of the neighborhood’s central location, subway service, and the density of teashops and cafés.
As a passionate, daily tea drinker of over twenty years, I’ve tried many of Korea’s tisanes, even though I’ve not yet visited the country. I buy imported bagged and powdered versions, and I’ve made a number myself using fresh ingredients. Here are five different tisanes and a list of Seoul teashops where I’ve never been, but which do serve these teas. One day I’ll hopefully get to drink some of these in Seoul, too.
1) Five Flavors Tea
Omijacha (오미자 차), or “five flavors” tea, at Jidaebang (지대방)
(2F 196-6 Gwanhun-dong, Jongno-gu. Phone: 02-738-5379)
In Korean, cha means ‘tea.’ Although English-speakers frequently use the term ‘tea’ to describe any hot beverage, tea is technically derived from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. A tisane is an herbal beverage containing no tea. Koreans drink green and black teas, yet the term ‘Korean tea’ usually refers to uncaffeinated, native tisanes as well.
Omijacha is brewed from the berries of the Chinese Schisandra chinensis vine. In traditional Chinese medicine, Schizandra is considered an adaptogen, like ginseng, and restorative, believed to help the heart and kidneys. It’s also said to contain all of the five distinct flavors central to Chinese medicine: salty, sour, pungent, bitter and sweet. Opened in 1982, Jidaebang is one of Insadong’s oldest teashops. They serve omijacha hot on cold days and iced during Seoul’s sweltering summers, sprinkling a few pine nuts on top, which float in an appealing contrast to the bold red tea.
2) Quince Tea
Mogwacha (모과차), or quince tea, at Yetchatjip (옛찻집)
(2F, 196-5 Gwanhun-dong, Jongno-gu. Phone: 02-722-5019, or 02-722-5332)
Mogwa is a Chinese quince which yields a tart, sweet brew reminiscent of citrus. ‘Jip’ means house in Korean, and Yetchajip translates as ‘Old Tea House.’ Insadong has been Seoul’s arts district since the Joseon Dynasty. Hidden within the neighborhood’s maze of bustling streets and alleys, Yetchajip’s building – a hanok, or “traditional house” – was built over 125 years ago, making it Insadong’s oldest teahouse. Although it’s a bit difficult to find, many people considerthis quiet, cluttered shop one of the most peaceful places in Seoul. Light is low. Fountains trickle and candles flicker. Birds chirp from a cage. Tea selection is limited (nine hot and seven cold), but ingredients are high-grade, and. The quince tea might be one of their best sellers. Tea comes with a small plate of traditional snacks, many made from glutinous, sweetened rice.
Here are a few interior photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/68558939@N00/4245023786/
3) Citron Tea
Yujacha (유자차), or citron tea, at Star Miss Lee Café (별다방 미스리)
(Address TK. Phone: 02-739-0939)
Yuja is a tangy citrus fruit popular in Japan and China. Korean grocers sell this tea in jars, where the fruit is preserved in honey or sugar like marmalade. When people start to develop a cold or sore throat, they often spoon a bit into a mug to treat the symptoms, but nothing compares to fresh versions made in a teahouse.
Star Miss Lee Café sells yujacha and nostalgia. Located on the second floor above a convenience store, it offers games, toys, childhood comfort foods such as dosirak boxed lunches, and tea snacks such as yakgwa, a fried cookie dipped in honey. Patrons can also hang notes from nearly any surface, including an indoor tree. Here is the menu: http://www.missleecafe.com/menu.php Also, some photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/seoulkorea/4946926893/in/photostream/
4) Jujube Tea
Daechucha (대추차), or jujube tea
Westerners might be shocked to find so much stuff floating in their tea. Blossoms, pine needles, sliced jujube fruit – with so much plant matter floating in the cup, they could mistake it as soup. It’s a problem of texture rather than taste. Western palates are accustomed to clear beverages; we’re only still getting used to tapioca pearls in tea. But the same ingredients that commonly appear in many Korean porridges and desserts also decorate teas such as daechucha.
Daechucha is believed to stimulate your appetite and help you fall asleep. You’ll commonly find jujube teas blended with ginseng, ginger and honey. Fans of herbal liquors such as Chartreuse will enjoy this classic combination. Herby and earthy without being medicinal, it carries a rich taste of earth similar to a roasted beet. Despite how that sounds, it’s surprisingly appealing.
Jujube tea is so popular that it’s sold at most teahouses, so you shouldn’t have much trouble finding a standout version.
5) Persimmon Punch
Sujeonggwa (수정과), or dessert punch, at Banjjakbanjjak Binnaneun
(6 Gwanhun-dong, Jongno-gu. Phone: 02-738-4525)
Koreans drink tisanes for health, but they also drink them for taste. Fortunately, even their healthiest teas are delicious. Sujeonggwa is a dark red brew, sweet enough that it’s called punch. Made from cinnamon, dried persimmons, ginger and peppercorn, it’s commonly garnished with pine nuts and served as dessert. Each ingredient boasts a number of healthful properties, from aiding digestion to increasing circulation. Sujeonggwa is sold commercially in cans, such as the Paldo brand’s popular 8.4oz version. As with jujube tea, sugeonggwa is so widespread that travelers who ask around should easily find a solid teahouse version. From what I can tell, though, there’s a teahouse named Banjjakbanjjak Binnaneun that brews their own sujeonggwa and sells tea serving sets. Another place to get good homemade sujeonggwa is Su Yo Il (수요일).
Perched on the second floor above the main road through Insadong, Su Yo Il means ‘Wednesday.’ Although this café is bit on the pricey side, they often throw a whole persimmon into their sujeonggwa. With such a great view from the window seats, high prices seem worthwhile.
For more info, you can also check out the book Korean Tea Classics, written by Hong Kyeong-Hee (a native Korean, he teaches the Way of Tea at a wing of the Panyaro Institute for the Way of Tea, outside Seoul), and Steven D. Owyoung. Also, check out this this food-focused blog by a vegan named Mipa.