Food as the new cultural touchstone

My wife came across an article that noted the primary cultural focus in 21st century America is fine food and wine. It’s what intelligent people discuss, even argue about, in casual conversation. And just look at all the writing focused on it today.

A related factor the article raised was that in modern history, in each century one nation has dominated in one art form rather than many. That’s had me thinking, even though I think America led on two fronts in the 2oth century.

Here are ten examples that spring to my mind.

  1. Painting and sculpture. 16th century Italian masters.
  2. Theater. 16th century England. Shakespeare is unrivaled.
  3. Painting. 17th century Dutch masters.
  4. Painting. 19th century France culminating in Impressionism.
  5. The symphony. 19th century Germany towering in Beethoven and Brahms. Do we think of Vienna as essentially German?
  6. The novel. 19th century England and America. Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn may be flawed but they remain original masterworks.
  7. Opera. 19th century Italy. Verdi and Puccini remain the core of the repertoire.
  8. Ballet. 19th century Russia. Its great symphonists excelled here. And look where the great dancers and teachers still come from.
  9. Movies. 20th century America. (Shall we consider Hollywood as a nation unto itself?)
  10. Popular music. 20th century America as jazz and then rock evolve. (Note that this happens more in the eastern half of the country – New Orleans, Kansas City, Memphis, Cleveland, Nashville, but especially New York.)

I’ll leave it to others to look for the food trends over time. 

What else would you add to this list?

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When a Chinese student stayed in our home

Last summer, we had a college student from China stay in our home while he worked an internship at the children’s museum in town.

We found it to be an enriching experience.

His big desire was to improve his English, which he did, but he also wanted to “eat American.” That meant, as we learned, that he really loved our homemade Mexican more than a Big Mac … and my fried rice more than the Chinese restaurant downtown. And don’t overlook the brownies and potato chips.

Lobster, on the other hand, required too much labor to dissect, as his friends agreed.

As a city boy, he was annoyed by the insects when we dined outdoors. Alas, we ate indoors a bit too often.

In return, we’ve been endowed with some of the best green tea in North America, along with some great memories.

His English was, shall we say, much better than my Spanish (my point of reference in trying to translate to another language), but our great discovery was of an effective way to translate when we got stuck on an interpretation. No, it wasn’t a dictionary. It was the ubiquitous cell phone.

Like when he wanted to buy some sleepers.

Pajamas?

No, sleepers.

After a few rounds of that, he pulled up the image online.

We were in the drug store.

Oh, flip-flops! Now I understood.

That is, slippers.

Made sense to me. An “i” can, after all, be pronounced as “ee.” It is in Spanish, for that matter.

We headed for the aisle behind him, found a suitable pair for under three bucks – made in China, actually. Small world?

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Defined by faith, especially

Many Americans participate in a congregation close to their homes – a neighborhood church, as it’s often called.

For others, though, the decision is more selective and may require travel to gather for worship, communal action, and other events.

Frequently, these members define their personal identity strongly by these religious circles – I certainly do as a Quaker. Still others, like Jews or Greeks, find their identity further enhanced by the use of a foreign language, such as Hebrew or Greek, in worship and possibly also at home, as well as unique holidays on dates the wider public doesn’t celebrate.

I am fascinated by the intensity of this identification for some people or its relative weakness in others. I rarely hear individuals define themselves as, say, Methodist or Presbyterian or even Baptist with the sense of intense core identity I hear in Quaker, Greek, Mennonite, or even “nonobservant Jew.”

Think about the Amish, with their German dialect accompanied by distinctive dress and horse-and-carriage transportation. Or Ultra-Orthodox Jews who also observe the dress restrictions and likely add Yiddish to the mix.

Let’s assume we’ll find similar patterns in new ethnic populations appearing in the nation – Islam, especially. Anyone else feeling some empathy?

What’s your experience of religion and personal identity?

Lamprey River Band

This country dance band has been together since 1983, performing principally in the Seacoast Region of New Hampshire. Its first-Thursday-of-the-month New England contradances in Dover’s city hall welcome sit-in musicians and guest callers. That event started out in a neighboring town as band practice … and if the band was practicing, so could the callers … and if they were calling, why not have dancers? It’s a great event, and beginning dancers are always welcome.

Why this year is a hippie jubilee

What a pivotal year 1969 would turn out to be. Hard to think that was 50 years ago now – seems so long ago and yet, for those of us who experienced it, still so vivid. The hippie movement spread from a freakish fringe happening and out across the nation. So much of its impact we now take for granted, and so much remains to be accomplished.

Fifty years! That’s the jubilee, if only we’d have the corresponding release promised in Scripture.

Here are ten big things that happened that year.

  1. Richard M. Nixon becomes president of the United States. And we had thought Lyndon Johnson was bad? We were in mourning. January 20.
  2. The Beatles final performance. Where would rock go? January 30.
  3. Chappaquidick Affair. U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy loses control of his car and plunges into a pond. A woman’s body is found later in the vehicle. The Kennedy magic ends. July 25.
  4. First moon landing. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as astronaut Neil Armstrong says as he first walks on the surface. Anything is now thought to be possible. July 29.
  5. Charles Manson cult murders five people, including the Hollywood actress Sharon Tate. Are these villains hippies? August 5.
  6. Not the only big music festival that year, but the most famous. Suddenly, hippies have come out of the woodwork and are visible everywhere. August 15 to 18.
  7. First message sent across Arpanet, precursor to the Internet. Little does anyone know of the life-changes ahead. For me, it’s emblematic of the far-out thinking that accompanied the hippie revolution. October 29.
  8. March on Washington to protest the war attracts 250,000 participants. The largest demonstration to date. November 15.
  9. Draft lottery instituted. Young men now have a clearer idea of their chances of being conscripted for military service. Will this defuse the antiwar fever? Many did utter a big sigh of relief. December 1.
  10. Altamont Speedway Free Festival. Event marred by Hells Angels, violence, and deaths. December 6.

Other significant events include the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Stanley v. Georgia declaring “the State may not prohibit mere possession of obscene materials for personal use” (April 7), the black students’ takeover of Willard Straight Hall at Cornell University (April 19), widespread police crackdowns on student protests elsewhere, and the Stonewall Inn gay club riot in New York City (June 28).

In my novel Daffodil Uprising, similar pressures are building in the hills of southern Indiana. Look how chaotic these events remain when viewed together.

CELEBRATING 50 YEARS ON A SINGLE PODIUM

Okay, I know churches don’t have podiums for their music directors, but Rick Gremlitz at First Parish Church (UCC) in our town does conduct with a short white baton. What’s amazing is that he’s been doing this, in that venue, for a half century.

Among other things, the house of worship – serving the oldest congregation in the state – has its Belknap concert series where world-renowned organists perform on a remarkable hybrid organ. Parts of it are historic, as it Hastings and Hutchins, and part are state-of-the-art electronics, probably installed during Rick’s tenure. Any doubts in my mind about the sound itself vanished when bete-noir Cameron Carpenter did one unforgettable, amazing workout on the machine one afternoon a few years ago. It survived. The audience was left in a swoon.

Look, I’m a purist and lean toward the E. Power Biggs line of thinking that contrasts sharply with the Virgil Fox excesses that Rick adores. He addresses the man as the great Virgil Fox. I forgive him. We all have our icons.

So be it.

In his ministry, Rick’s led a number of Handel Messiah performances in the sanctuary. Last year it became an open sing with prepared soloists and two guest conductors. Seated between two seasoned voices, I discovered that the choruses are easier than they sound, not that I was anywhere near perfect. It was a most exhilarating event.

Today, though, Rick’s acclaimed friend Hector Olivera returns to the console, with a twist.

An ecumenical community choir, including yours truly, has been rehearsing to join in the performance.

We’ll be performing the world premiere of an anthem composed by Kevin Siegfried for the occasion, and we’ve been rehearsing weekly since mid-September at the Methodist church. How can you possibly keep something like this a surprise?

We’ll see. It’s still a special occasion. And, I might add, one of the joys of living in a relatively small community.

I’m hoping it comes off well. Especially if I don’t miss a cue while we’re singing.

THIS MATTER OF BRANDING AND SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION

The Mixmaster is back.

When my first novel was published, back in 1990, I was described as “a mixmaster of ideas, images, jokes, philosophy, and nonsense that defies categorization” – as well as “very eclectic and ebullient.”

I’m realizing how much that still fits, and so I’m returning to it as a core of what some might call branding.

As one longtime friend recently described me, I’m “an eclectic human being with a funky sense of humor and a large perspective.”

That’s what I like to do as a writer and thinker – toss a wide range of colorful things together and concoct fresh and exciting connections.

So if that’s what I do and, as I hope, do well, that leads to a new label: Mixmaster Supreme.

Now, where are the frozen strawberries?

Remember, the drink is shaken, not stirred. As for the emotions? Let’s go for both.