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In 1995, my daughter Althaea, a friend, and i were wandering around the Telegraph Avenue Street Fair in Berkeley, California, when Althaea spotted a strange jewelry booth. All the items for sale were little hand-blown glass pendants and the crudely lettered sign on the booth said


Knowing my interest in folkoric custom and in oddball English usage, she pulled me over to look at the items. At first all i saw was a shiny mass of colourful glass pendants in an assortment of designs hung from a wire, but just as the proprietor started to go into his spiel, i realized Althaea had struck a rich vein of *stuff*.

"Your name on rice," said the artisan, a handsome, light-brown haired man with a strong foreign accent, in his late 30s. I couldn't place the accent.

"Why would we want our names on rice?" asked Althaea.

"Many people like," he said. "Many people like their name on rice. I make these myself. Any design, any colour, your name on rice."

And sure enough, as i looked closer, i saw that the multi-coloured glass pendants were hollow, filled with variously coloured oils, and that within each one there was a floating grain of rice, bearing tiny letters: Dorothy, Janet, Sheila -- even the word Love. Some of the pendants also contained little sprigs of dried leaves and flowers. The oil acted as a magnifier, and the miniscule letters were easily legible.

Althaea and i were entranced. We looked into every pendant, and each one bore a name or a word. We could tell that there was a meaning behind this array of items, but the man would not volunteer it. I looked up at him and asked, "Does this -- this name on rice -- come from your home country?"

"Yes," he said. "Many people like name on rice. Is an old custom, put your name on rice."

"And -- i hope you don't mind my asking -- but where are you from?"

"Turkey. But name on rice is popular in Greece, too, very popular. All around the Aegean i selled name on rice. I selled in Italy too; then i came to America."

And that was when i realized that one of the pendants was looking back at me. A thin blue tube, about an inch long, filled with pale blue fluid, it bore a stylized eye on the bottom, a staring, unlidded blue eye. Oh boy. The evil eye.

"Excuse me," i said, "but this pendant here -- the blue one -- is that an eye on it?"

"Yes, that is the eye. Keep you safe or you buy for a present, their name on rice inside, keep them safe."

"From the evil eye."

"Yes, this is from the evil eye." He paused. "But the others...other things."

"You mean that each of the pendants has a different meaning?" Althaea asked.

"Yes, each one different. See...teapot. Friendship. Come with a friend, each one name on rice, then they give to each other, stay friends."

"Okay, i want to buy one. How much are they?"

"Six dollar each, two for ten dollar. You write down name on this." He handed me a post-it pad and a pen.

"Okay, i'll take two, but i need to know what they are for first. Why are they filled with different colours of fluid?"

"Fluid is for colour, no meaning. You choose own fluid colour."

"Why do some have flowers in them and some not?"

"No special meaning for flowers, just for looking pretty. If you want."

"Okay...and the shapes and colours of the glass?"

"All colours, whatever you like, except eye is only blue glass. This, eye, for babies. This, teapot, friendship. Sun is widen your horizons. Anchor is safety and freedom. Mace is...old power. Heart for love. Teardrop for romance. This" -- he indicated a pale blue, vaguely fish-shaped piece covered with little dark blue and white eye motifs -- "is also for the eye, all over eyes, but not hollow, no rice inside. This is..." he stopped. He had come to a corno and he was embarrased to explain it to two women. "This is Italian..."

"The corno," i said.

He gave me a flirtatious appraisal and smiled hugely. He nodded and i did too. "Cornicello. Italian. You know? know, Italian." He shrugged, as if to say, "Oh, those crazy Italians."

"I am half Italian myself," i said.

"Ah! You speak Italian? I major in Italian, not English. I live in Perugia for two years."

In the end i bought a blue tube evil eye protectant for myself and an anchor for Althaea. We asked for added sprigs of flowers. The charms are really sweet looking, and the names are clearly readable on the rice. I would have bought the "all over eyes" protectant too but i was short on cash. The man gave me his business card and told me that there was a volume discount: "Come back any time. One for six dollar, two for ten dollar, five for twenty dollar." This is what was on his card:

Glass Blower
Names on Rice

3048 College Ave. #3 Berkeley, CA 94705 Phone/Fax (510) 653-6144

I intended to look him up and acquire a "all over eyes" charm and perhaps the mace, which is very cute, the next time i was down in Berkeley, but --

-- my darling daughter bought me an "all-over eyes" charm for Christmas. It is hand-blown, cobalt blue, and shaped like a fat fish or a large teardrop bent back upon itself to form a hanging loop. Studded over its surface, staring at the beholder, are six protuberant unlidded white eyeballs, each with a brown pupil-center. The effect is eerie and very powerful. Mr. Puka sells this charm either as a necklace or as a key ring fob, your choice, The price is $6.00 or two for $10.00.

The above was written in 1995. Since then, Robert Puka has gotten his own web site, enabling folks to buy Name On Rice amulets directly from the source. Also in the time since i wrote up my encounter with him, his English has improved a great deal -- which was only to be expected of such an intelligent and educated man.

Here's the Name On Rice URL: And if you say hello to Mr. Puka, pass along my greetings as well.

For more charms used against the evil eye see:

evil eye, apotropaic charms
catseye shell
cord charms intended to decay
blue eye amulets, Greek and Turkish
blue eye amulet, "all-over eyes," Turkish
blue eye amulet, "your name on rice," Turkish
blue beads on terra cotta horseshoe plaque, Middle Eastern
coral cornicelli, horns, and forks, Italian
eye-agate amulets
eye-in-hand amulets, Israeli, Arabic, Indian
frijol colorado bean in Guatemalan charm vial
hamsa hand amulets, Israeli, Arabic
hamsa hand and crescent amulet, Arabic
hamsa hand on European charm bracelet
horseshoe, European and Middle Eastern
horseshoe plaque, Middle Eastern
mano fico (fig hand), Italian
mano cornuto (horned hand), Italian
SATOR square to protect cattle from the evil eye


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