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 — — 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.

February 1, 2010

Sexy Tractors

Richard Harris of NPR News shared the following with listeners:

January 25, 2010

Can a man’s technology make him more attractive to women? A new study says it can. But before you run out and upgrade your smart phone, take note.

The technology in this story includes stone axes and other basic tools of agriculture. And the smitten women are the hunter-gatherers of prehistoric Europe. Those technologies were not simply cutting edge about 10,000 years ago; they were revolutionary.

“You can regard it as the most important cultural change in the history of modern humans,” says Prof. Mark Jobling at the University of Leicester in England. “It allowed people to generate their own food, and populations to grow and society to become specialized.”

…He says, is that “as the populations expanded from the Near East they contained men and women. But then the indigenous people, the hunter-gatherers who were already in Europe, the women were incorporated into these societies and had offspring…the result is the genetic pattern we see in many Europeans today: male genes from farmers who hailed from the Near East, and female genes mostly from women who had been hunter-gatherers in Europe after the last Ice Age.

So, to the punch line: Does technology make men more sexy?

“That would be one way to interpret it,” says Peter Underhill at Stanford University. But it’s not necessarily just sex appeal at work; it “might be in terms of not just physical appearance but also in terms of ability to provide for offspring.” — from NPR

That’s all very cerebral and fine.  However, for me, Kenny Chesney has more pertinent things to say on the topic:

Yes I said yes I will yes

“She thinks my tractor’s sexy
It really turns her on
She’s always starin’ at me
While I’m chuggin’ along
She likes the way it’s pullin’ while we’re tillin’ up the land
She’s even kind of crazy ’bout my farmer’s tan
She’s the only one who really understands what gets me
She thinks my tractor’s sexy”

Ladies and gentlemen, long oppressed by urban sensibilities, I am coming out of the closet — I am an agrosexual.  I dig guys with farmer’s tans, tool-wielding hands, a certain boot-wearing gait, a laconic way of stretching out the word “ma’am” into four or five syllables.  I dig the Earth, the Earth they plow, the practicality of what they do, the profound necessity — no one has ever told me in a manner that I can honestly believe that poetry was truly a matter of life and death, and yet it is what I do best, but agriculture is.

I’ll be honest.  In ancient Europe, if I had seen those stone-axe-wielding studs headed toward my cave, I would have given it up faster than you could say “paleolithic archeology.”  My genes scream now for some jeans, faded and American blue, not torn at the boutique but out on the back forty.

It feels good to tell you all this.  On my way back and forth to the University of Southern Mississippi, I cruise by fields and see the occasional tractor.  Finally, National Public Radio has given voice to my Stonewall, or my stone implement, anyway.

At the University of Southern Mississippi, I am taking a class in queer and gender theory in literature.  Reading texts that go into the minutia of the habits of men in the Greco-Roman world and their anthropological implications, I cry out for a text that at last expresses my sexual preference — I am talking about a clearer definition of my “straight.”  The closest I have ever found before this was written by a very naughty Southern woman named Rosemary Daniell.  It’s called Sleeping With Soldiers, and while I don’t intend to be anything other than absolutely monogamous with my sexy implement-wielding husband (okay, he’s not a farmer; he’s a chemist, and the implements are generally metal, not stone, but, hey!), she describes the things that get me hot under the church lady collar.  She talks about her promiscuity of a certain era of her life with verve and a guilty pleasure of muscles, guys who get their hands dirty at work, soldiers of  fortune, oil rig grease monkeys in bed. To all this, I say yes, I say yes I said yes.

I’ll be honest.  New York, for all its kinky, twisted sexual energy never quite scratched my itch with all the men who got manicures on Wall Street, the tortured artists, the metrosexuality.  It’s not quite the same as Marlboro Man manliness, is it?  I’m not in favor of cancer cowboys — don’t get me wrong, but there is something about a guy who gets up before dawn because the cows need milking which is just, well, sexy.  There’s nothing abstract about it.  He’s solid.  He’s real.  He’s capable.  There’s milk in the bucket.  There’s food on the table.  I think his tractor’s sexy, and now I know that my ancestresses agreed with me.

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