Ornament is Cream
An architectural short story
May 7, 2001
Never late, Stanley enjoyed the rush of self-confidence as he opened the door to L’Glace Nouveau at 10 o’clock Wednesday morning. April was already there, already aproned, and digging around the walk-in freezer for the Japanese cherries they used in the Wrightian Box-Destroyer. Still drunk from his weekly night of “Sub and Pub”, Stanley couldn’t help but love his job: an Ice Cream Sundae Scooper in Paris’s art district. He had ridden the Metropolitan loop three times last night to match his three Manhattan Ice Teas, in hopes of remembering what the subway stations in New York looked like. He was six when his parents moved from the big city, and the Paris stations always seemed much more alive than his memories of New York’s were.
“Where have you been,” April yells from the freezer.
“How’d you know I was here?”
“You’re always here at ten,” April emerges, “So you don’t get any cherries.”
April put the cherries in their cubed cubbyhole on stilts and handed the stem she took from her mouth to Stanley. It was tied in a knot, and he slipped it into his left pocket.
“We’re a modern ice cream shop,” April said. “You need to stop sleeping in and help me set up the machines.”
“I’m modern…Look, I have…I have…Well, I am nonetheless…” Stanley trailed off, still suffering from last night’s trip through Manhattan. He put on his apron, and noticed April smiling again. She did this every so often to keep him feeling good about getting there right on time. Stanley was also starting wonder if April wanted to join him on a Tuesday night. After all, he was Head Icescraper.
After setting up the Doesburg Swirl machine, a wonderfully refreshing blend of lemon, strawberry, and blueberry sherbets, Stanley was ready for business. He loved all the sundaes they made equally, but did have tendency to cure a hangover with the classic Corbu Cone. It was a rare sunny day that L’Glace Nouveau was not full of American tourists and local college students. Today, Stanley thought, is a perfect day for modern ice cream.
The glass front door opened, and three little kids rushed in, pressing their noses against the horizontal case holding the buckets of ice cream, leaving breath fog on the glass.
“I want some sprinkles,” said the boy with the old navy shirt as he pulled his mother’s skirt.
“Can I have strawberries,” said another.
“Me first,” chimed the third.
Tourists. Stanley knew the drill. They would want explanations and diagrams. They could never just enjoy their ice cream; they had to talk it to death first.
“What so modern about this anyway,” the mom asked as she wrestled her kids of her legs, “ice cream is ice cream right?”
Stanley was ready. “Sort of. You see, the experience of eating this ice cream is completely different, compared to traditional ice cream. Ice Cream, yes, but healthier and built more for eating outside. Each sundae tastes different, even though it may have the same ingredients.1 Plus, only our machines make it.” Stanley was smiling. He did love his job.
“So this is a Paris thing, huh?”
“Well, it started here, and around Europe, but we have shops all over now…In America, Japan…New ones open up all the time. Chicago and New York have always been good business for us,” Stanley replied. All employees were required to know the history of their ice cream. Like April, he never looked at Ice Cream the same ever again.
“Oh…well if I can get this in America, then…umm…come on kids we’re leaving…you see, we really need to be getting in line to see the Mona Lisa…we just don’t have time…”
“That’s alright ma’am I understand,” Stanley said.
“I want ice cream!” the three kids screamed.
“Alright, Alright,” assuaging the savage beasts, “Three vanillas.”
“Did you want sprinkles or strawberries?” Stanley tried to help.
“No, thank you.”
“Three Ornament and Cream’s coming your way,” Stanley said as he turned to the yogurt machines. Grabbing for their cones, the three kids giggled and smiled as they enjoyed the best ice cream they had ever tasted. Soon, they were hustled out the door by their mother.
“They’ll remember,” Stanley told April. “Those kids will find this place again when they are older.” Most of the time April thought Stanley was drunker than he ever really was.
Having just finished serving his first Chille Radieuse of the week to a youthful Russian couple, it was time for Stanley’s lunch break. Chocolate swept around the mounds of ice cream and white chocolate chunks like highways connecting the outlying bananas and cherries to the nuts concentrated in the center. Large, airy whip cream spaces topped it off.2
Stanley let April take the next order, a classic Corbu cone, as he left to pick up something to eat. The young man at the counter happily reached for the ice cream as Stanley disappeared from view.
Five minutes later, Stanley returned with a handful of grapes, three warm rolls and a Cesar salad. He walked into L’Glace Nouveau and tossed April a roll. The old bookstore next door and the ice cream shop shared a hallway, and Stanley always checked out a book for his lunch break. Today, it would be “Recent developments in Scandinavian Frozen Yogurt.” He left the store with a nod to old man Horner, it was Horner’s Book Corner after all, and climbed the spiral staircase outside to the roof area on top of the ice cream shop. Usually, he was the only one that ever ate up here, but the kid that ordered before Stanley left had ventured up there as well.
“This is a great place to see the city from, huh kid…” Stanley posited.
“I like the Unite’ d’Choclatation better,” he replied, “but it is nice.”
“That place is so cram full of customers, though…”Stanley said stunned.
“Yeah, but they have over twenty colors of chocolate ice cream.”
“But, two is all you need.”
“Not with that many people,” the kid said.
Amazed and still a little shocked, Stanley took his seat to the left of the kid, opened his salad and ate one of the rolls. This kid was neither a regular, nor a tourist, and obviously knew his ice creams. Stanley began to wonder how he was enjoying his ice cream.
“I like it,” the kid said. “The way the vanilla top changes into strawberry and chocolate as you eat is amazing. I’ve never had Neapolitan this good.”
“I’m glad,” Stanley, said, “it’s my favorite too. It’s as if roofs were built for eating ice cream on.”
“I’ll have a Sullivan Split,” Mr. Demarco ordered.
“Chicago-style, right?” Stanley made sure.
“Like always,” replied the man.
Stanley got the bananas and had the strawberry ice cream machine dispense three consecutive scoops, directly on top of each other. Then to another machine, where a lattice of butterscotch was applied to the exterior. The hot butterscotch held the ice cream in place just long enough to eat from the top down.3
“Here ya go sir, enjoy…”
“Well, what would you suggest?” a young woman in a nice dress, adorned with three small square lapel pins, asks Stanley.
“The Tautcicle is very popular if you want the taste of ice-cream but not really the fill of it. It’s crystal-clear, see,” Stanley replies as he pulls one from the fridge. It shimmers in the light as he waves it around, but the woman is not convinced.
“What about a bowl of Bauhaus? Each one is packaged and shipped to us with your needs and taste in mind.” 4
“How about just vanilla?”
“We have Corbusier, and Schindler. The Corbusier is the French vanilla.”
“I’ll take a Shindler Shake.”
It seemed that no one ever noticed the Mise Cream Sandwiches on the menu. Maybe they were too big and imposing, or maybe they we were just too darn expensive. All the ice cream sandwiches Stanley sold, looked like Mise Cream Sandwiches, were cheaper than Mise Cream Sandwiches, but certainly didn’t taste like a Mise Cream Sandwich.5
The day was dragging on, and Stanley could see by the gray of clouds outside of the horizontal windows, that rain was coming. His replacement, Aaron, should have been here already, but as usual was running late. Didn’t he understand this modern ice cream business was for professional only? Stanley just smiled.
1. “It expressed polemical attitudes and Utopian Sentiments; and whatever qualities individual buildings may have shared, they were still the products of individual artists with personal styles and private preoccupations.”
William Curtis, Modern Architecture Since 1900 (London: Phaidon, 1996), 163.
2. “Contemplating the countryside as a whole, Le Corbusier foresaw a new era of communication based on the highway, predicting that “the automobile would bring life back to the places that the railroad had cut off, and that a new relationship, a living and supple one, could be established between the city and the country, between the city dweller and the country dweller: a unity of spirt.”
Norma Evenson, Le Corbusier: the machine and the grand design (Braziller, 1970), 23.
3. “The Auditorium was a transitional work in Sullivan’s search for an adequate tectonic expression for the new means of contruction; the division of the block into base, middle and top, and the accentuation of vertical lines of force with linear ornament would developed and clarified in later designs. But the building revealed broader dilemmas related to industrialization itself. It grappeled with the problem of imposing a civic image on raw standardized technology, and with a role of higher sensibility in a commercial setting.”
4. “…Students should both learn about the design of types for mass production, and seek to design forms which crystallized the values of a mechanized epoch.”
5. “In their estimation the modern world has neither the time nor the money required to raise building to the level of architecture. Although they usually recognize and distinguish the aesthetically good and the aesthetically bad, they deny that such distinction has significance at a time when the world has such a positive need for good building.”
Hitchcock, Henry Russell, The International Style (New York: Norton, 1966), 80.