The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

July 18, 2010

The Emperor (or Mississippi State Governor) of Ice Cream

“Call the roller of big cigars,/ The muscular one, and bid him whip/In kitchen cups concupiscent curds…./ The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.” — Wallace Stevens

Stevens, in his poem about the ephemeral nature of life, bids us believe that there is no other emperor than the emperor of ice cream — meaning that empires melt after appearing and tasting grand.

I ask you — is that such a bad thing, really?

Where the empire awaits.

Off of Highway 49, going South from Florence, Mississippi toward Hattiesburg, there is a fruit stand called Donna’s.  Donna and Sidney Harrell sell boiled peanuts, squash, satsumas, cucumbers, and Sidney’s ice cream.

It is amazing ice cream, and if there ever were an emperor of ice cream, Sidney Harrell is it.

His black walnut ice cream has underflavors of maple, a pinch of salt,  and — I want to say but can’t prove it — whiskey.  His blueberry ice cream tastes as if the berries were flash frozen at the moment of picking, ready to explode in the mouth of the person who has a scoop of this heavy and redolent cream.

All empires fall.  Why not enjoy them before they melt into the sticky folds of the paper napkin surrounding the homemade waffle cone?

Sidney Harrell doesn’t look like a world-class chef.  The day I saw him at the fruit stand, he was wearing a trucker cap and a pair of faded jeans.  He had no air of the pretense that surrounds most emperors.  Rather, he looked like he might have been the mechanic of ice cream, the farmer of ice cream, the ranch hand of ice cream.

If Sidney’s ice cream pleases — and it does — it is not because he blows his own horn.

Summer is half over.  The heat in Mississippi could give anyone a headache.  Why not fight fire with ice, with ice cream?

Donna’s website — http://www.donnasproduce.com — announces “Sidney makes all of our flavors in a stainless steel machine with an old, crank-style cylinder.”  The ice cream is fourteen percent butter fat, one hundred percent worth it.

Gelato is unheard of in Mississippi.  The delicate sorbets of Berthillon on the Ile Saint Louis are as distant as the House of Chanel in this backwoods country surrounded by pines.  However, ice cream is, however ephemerally, perfectly articulated in that crank-style cylinder on the highway between nowhere and nowhere.

Sometimes, an empire rises in the desert.  Sometimes, when a pine tree falls in the forest, one can hear the sound of one hand clapping.

So it is with Sidney’s perfect ice cream, created for a public that sees it between parentheses, a pit stop, a moment between destinations.  However, it is not parenthetical, this ice cream.  It is the empire, the only empire, according to Wallace Stevens.  Sidney, Haley Barbour notwithstanding, is the governor of this emperial defiance of the transitory, temporary  nature of his stand.

So stop on your way somewhere better and notice that it might be that the journey is the destination, just as Wallace Stevens points out that the ice cream is the empire.

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