LETTERS FROM THE GLOBAL PROVINCE
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GP23Nov04: Thanksgiving Lassitude; The Art of Distraction
Anticipation. You are about to get a 96-hour Thanksgiving liberty pass. Rejoice. Even back in World War II, Captain Richard Winters of the 101st Airborne could only wangle 48 hours in Paris.
But for you a genuine respite from the civil wars of daily life. We already know that you are doing too much, are hugely overscheduled, and are a victim of digital stress syndrome (too much cell phone and too much computer). Was it the Archbishop of Canterbury who thought the typewriter could only quickly lead to the end of civilization? Now all its microchip stepchildren connive against the good life.
With Thanksgiving upon us, we want to make sure you remove yourself from all the compulsions that have you running in place and, rather, to help you drift off to a planet where you are doing hardly anything at all. There you will take a creative vacillando, a journey with a destination which you are striving not to reach. Here’s our program for systematic malingering, relentless distraction, and aimless meandering:
Wednesday Night: Intense Laziness. We would have you start with several quaffs of ancient beers but we don’t know where to buy them. You can now read about them in several places. Anchor Steam out in San Francisco took on its Sumerian Beer Project to commemorate its own very short history and the 6000 year roots of beer itself in Mesopotamia. To do this, Anchor tapped into the “Hymn to Ninkasi,” a document dating back to 1800 B.C. which laid out the brewing process in a detailed poem. Further details can be found at www.anchorbrewing.com/beers/ninkasi.htm.
Kirin of Japan has recreated a relative newcomer it has named “The New Kingdom Beer” after a brew thought to have been made between 1570 and 1070 B.C. It’s also turned out “The Old Kingdom Beer,” having gotten the formula from wall paintings circa 2650-2180 BC. This process of re-creation was very time consuming and very costly, so it will not be offering these brews to consumers anytime soon. Kirin is thinking next of a beer from the Middle Ages—gruit beer, and, after that, Japan’s first beer from the 19th century Shogunate period. (See the Wall Street Journal, October 14, 2004, p. A16. Also see www.kirin.co.jp/english/ir/news_release020802.html.
Kirin, incidentally, was once the IBM of the beer business. With Japanese marketshare as high as 70%, it was prohibited from growing bigger. Having learned its lesson, it now exhibits such a modest presence that Asahi Brewery has become the supreme market leader in the land of the Rising Sun. We recommend neither, mostly drinking Sapporo. But we have been known to have a Hatchino Nest Red Rice Ale.
The ancient beers we mention above are hard to come by and might be awful tasting anyway. Certainly medieval beers and ales had very serious shortcomings. Jack Turner, in Spice: The History of a Temptation, writes that medieval ale “could be truly foul, and was referred to by Peter of Blois as a “scurvy drink, sulfurous liquor.” Nutmeg was commonly added to bolster the taste and to subdue bacteria.
Probably you should merely think about the ancients, meanwhile drinking Belgium’s Duvel Beer (www.duvel.be) which, we are led to believe, clocks in at 12%, a hefty premium over the watery beverages we drink in America. At first called “Victory Ale,” it only dates back to World War I and was later re-named after a local shoemaker. It will unfocus your mind enough that you will be totally ruled by holiday spirits.
Idleness. As you get into your Duvel, we would suggest you pick up a new book, Tom Hodgkinson’s How to Be Idle. Apparently he edits the Idler (www.idler.co.uk), a magazine that has positioned itself as sloth central, which he manages to turn out every six months. “Condensed from over ten years of writing about doing very little, his book is an attempt to set out a philosophy of indolence.” (See The Economist, October 16, 2004, p. 82). Reviewers find him to be a true subversive, much dedicated to undermining our Western work ethic. His tee shirts on his website need to be upgraded, however: we are urging that his next read, “Doing Nothing Is the Best Revenge.”
Thursday: Eating. With beer and idleness, you surely will have gotten the best night’s sleep you have had in years. That’s just to get you relaxed enough to get through a day of sitting and eating.
For breakfast we offer Cane Creek Farm’s pork sausage, which you can read about on Global Province in the Best of the Triangle. There’s a world of difference between it and whatever you can pick up in your grocery store. It comes from North Carolina but is a thing apart from the pig offal spilled from the factory farms that produce pork in the rest of the state. Its Farmer Hybrid and Ossabaw pigs, specialty breeds, are cherished by chefs around the country who know a good thing when they taste it. They’re fed barley or other grains, a far cry from the diets of the poor animals on the corporate pig farms.
For Thanksgiving, do make sure you stick to the brine turkeys we offered you last year on the Global Province. Even tasteless turkey comes to life, endowed with flavor and moisture, after brining. To get our recipe, take a peek at last year’s “Turkey Restoration; Green Renewal,” December 3, 2003. Post meal, you will be ready for a little champagne, a big fire, and a long nap, perhaps saving the dessert and coffee for the early evening.
Friday: Beginning Christmas. By this, we mean that you are allowed to think about Christmas but not to do anything really serious about it. A pox on you if you get your tree decorated or put up Christmas lights in the trees outside, as is the Thanksgiving custom in parts of Dallas. Oh, it’s all right to find a place for the Advent calendar out on the hall table.
We have underway tentative experiments with baked apples which should find their way on to the Christmas table. That’s because our SpiceMaster is working on cinnamon for the next issue of SpiceLines, and is experimenting with sundry recipes. We are using cassia, a near cousin of cinnamon from China, Indonesia (the big producer), and Vietnam. True cinnamon, which comes from Sri Lanka, has a more delicate flavor with hints of lemon and clove.
While you’re puttering at, but not really getting started on, Christmas, thumb through Inventing Christmas: How Our Holiday Came to Be, the work of our old friend Jock Elliott. He understands how the myth and ritual of Christmas has become nicely embroidered over the centuries, as we explain in “The Branding of Christmas,” March 17, 2004. With luck, Elliott may help you recast your own Christmas 2004, enriched by memories of Christmases past.
Saturday: Recreation. By now, some of you will be surfeited with leisure, stuffed with food. Maybe it’s time to take up some non-competitive sport, where you even forget to keep score.
You might go to the links. But not to those taxing courses out on Long Island, nor to the Olympic Club in San Francisco, and very far away from Pinehurst, North Carolina’s most branded and talked about resort. There are prettier courses where you can get far away from the madding crowd. For instance, the North Carolina Golf Directory (www.nccbi.com/golf) can steer you to a course that’s a little less attractive to the golf addicts. Perhaps you will go to Wilmington Municipal, an old Donald Ross course with small greens and a 1930s clubhouse, taken by many to be a very fine restoration (see www.golfclubatlas.com/wilmington000237.html). Much in the same vein, incidentally, journalist Lewis Lapham has recounted his adventure of playing all the offbeat golf courses in Scotland, well away from the clubs favored by the pros. (See “In Scotland's Small Golf Courses Lie the Roots of the Game,” Forbes.com, October 18, 2004.)
Trivial Pursuits. Better yet, do a board game with the family. My vote is for Trivial Pursuit (www.trivialpursuit.com), though some are lobbying for Scrabble. Trivial Pursuit, now part of Hasbro, is a Montreal invention, one example among many of the often unnoticed splendid contribution Canada has made to the world of games and toys. It’s the game where you demonstrate your mastery of all the factoids and incidentals you absolutely do not have to know about. Its purposelessness is certainly its central redeeming feature. It took a long time to catch on in the United States, and its success here has a lot to do with a very inventive Manhattan public relations stalwart named Linda Pezzano, now deceased, who cleverly made it known to urbanites by word of mouth, a heroic campaign with very little budget but a stash of imagination. (See www.rulesofthegame.net/pezzano_obituary.htm). She could be said to be the lady who invented “buzz.”
Sunday: Exultation. Whatever you did, you did too much on Saturday. Less is more for Sunday. A slow walk in the sun with family. Just a bit of low key music on the stereo. Sunday papers on the floor.
And a little strident singing after supper to celebrate the holiday and to rejoice about how good it is to be alive in the Fall. Some 40 years ago, a friend from Pittsburgh set an example of what kind of exuberance is needed. A lawyer, he went on one occasion to visit a client well north of town, an old industrial valve company. He was ushered into the boardroom for his meeting with management, and, as he sat there, something drove him to break into loud singing. He tried on some of the Protestant hymns of his Presbyterian youth. As he raised the rafters, the senior officers of the corporation filed into the room. Not missing a beat, they, too, broke into song. The business thereafter, according to our friend Tom, went very, very smoothly. The peels, the crescendo, brought warmth and animation to the conversation that followed.
Obviously we expect you to sing “We Gather Together to Ask the Lord’s Blessing” on this particular night. Dating back to at least the 16th century, it was sung by the Dutch in grateful thanks that they had prevailed in war. In those days, all of Europe preyed on the Netherlands, so it brought them special joy, with thanks to the Almighty, whenever they survived a battle. The composer Adrianus Valerius put the song to paper in 1626, and in 1877 Edward Kremser did a Latin version. One Theodore Baker, an American, cast it in English in 1894. With the same urgency as the Dutch, we can sing the line, “Let Thy congregation escape tribulation.” For it’s time that we be freed of the relentless urgencies of the 21st century. Our survival depends on it.
Hmmn. This idyll is not such bad way to go about life. Let’s do it all the time. With such leisure, we not only get to renew ourselves but regain the capacity to do something new and outrageously creative.
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