Hello Friends and Family,

Link to this year's index by clicking here.

Asian Festival, Part 1

Rosson House Yesterday, I attended the Asian Festival held at Heritage Park in Phoenix. This park contains a number of homes that date from the late 1800s which have been restored and re-purposed. Pictured here is the largest structure, The Rosson House, which is open for tours and which can be rented for weddings and other functions.

Pizzeria Blanco The Baird Machine Shop was built in 1929 as a commercial structure but which now houses a pizza restaurant. But not just any pizza joint but Pizzeria Blanco which has been rated as serving the best pizza in the country. I know that suggestion may start a war of words over the superiority of New York or Chicago favorites — but this accolade is not mine but was reported in the newspaper (sorry I don't recall who the judges were).

In fact, I have not yet eaten there because they do not accept reservations thus patrons begin lining up before they open at 5:00 PM. Standing in the hot Phoenix sun to taste pizza (albeit a great pizza) is not something I would enjoy doing — and I know that I could never convince Mizuki to join me. So I guess I'll have to try it as a single before summer.

Orchid Tree Flower But it is a lovely setting with former homes and other buildings that now house other restaurants, museums and park offices. As I was admiring the orchid tree next door to Pizzeria Bianco (that building is their bar), I encountered a young man who said this area was a real neighborhood that his grandmother used to walk through all the time. He even went to school a block or two away.

Taiko drums However, I was not here just to admire the infrastructure but to see culture. One of the treats that was advertised were the Taiko Drummers. When I arrived, the drums were stacked by the stage — which gave me an opportunity to examine them up close and take a few photos.

Taiko Drum Handle I later learned that most of their drums (and the best drums available) come from Japan. No surprise there. They are fashioned out of a single piece of a wood that has been hollowed out. The preferred wood is Keyaki — chosen because of density and beautiful grain. They told us that drum makers have their own forests and, for every tree they harvest, they plant a replacement — which they will never see made into a drum but whose successors will.

Taiko Drum Head The drum head is cowhide which has been stretched and nailed (look at the size of those nails) to the side. Drums come in various sizes — the size determines the tone — and it cannot be tuned.

Taiko Drummers The performers were from an Arizona school for teaching taiko. You may have noticed that they are wearing mismatched outfits. They explained that they ran out of available material and ended up with three different "uniforms".

Seated in front are the drummers who provide the beat for the others (like the conductor of an orchestra provides the beat with a baton). That is sufficient for the drummers to synchronize their hits very precisely — with the result that you feel as much as you hear. Awesome.

Lead DrummerThis is a close-up of the real lead drummer. He sure looks the part, doesn't he.

Drummers The drummers hit the drums vigorously and most of the ones I have seen before are quite athletic. The drummer to the right would not look that athletic but he bangs the drums with the best of them.

There were both males and females...

Young Drummer Young Flutist young and old. Asian and not. But they all had great enthusiasm for the drums — and, for one number, the flute.

Youngest Drummer This little guy is part of the school. And would you believe he is four years old? And he was good! He was right on the beat with the rest of the troupe. A taiko star in the making!

Miss Asia When they finished the scheduled numbers, they invited audience members to come give the drums a try. A lot of the kids and a few adults went up on stage. I thought about it but was afraid I might miss a photographic opportunity. And I was right — here is Miss Asia Arizona complete with sash and tiara.

There was more to see and capture besides the taiko performance — but I will save the rest for next week.

Meanwhile, for those of you who have never seen a taiko drum performance, here is a YouTube video of a very high energy show — although you will notice it starts slowly and builds in intensity. Note that each troupe and each "song" is a bit different so this is not exactly what I saw yesterday — although the energy was similar.

 Life is good.

 B. David