My local high school is closed until May 7th because of the swine flu. Jon Carroll had a great column on that, and here is another on celebrating what is before us.
Monday, May 4, 2009
A long time ago, my friend Anne Lamott, before she was a famous novelist and spiritual adviser and moderately well-off mother of one, lived on a houseboat in Sausalito Harbor. Actually, she lived on half a houseboat - she was subletting.
As you might imagine, she did not have a lot of room for fancy appliances or, indeed, for any appliances. She had a toaster oven. And so, because she is a resourceful lass, when she wanted to have a social gathering, a brunch, sort of, even for five or six friends - which was maximum capacity, definitely - she had a Festival of Toast.
"Come to my Festival of Toast," she said, as though a Festival of Toast were as common as a wine and cheese reception. She bought various kinds of bread, so that those with different opinions about toast could have their desires fulfilled. I, frankly, was looking for some kind of catch, some bagpiper band and swirls of haggis and "Ha ha, Festival of Toast," but no such event occurred. Our Festival of Toast was a Festival of Toast.
And toast is good. I was thinking about that this morning, eating my ever-so-East-Bay Vital Vittles raisin bread - denser than a Heisenberg equation - and staring out the window on the sunny day: No one appreciates toast. I was at a Festival of Toast, and I'm afraid I made fun of it, although not out loud.
When you get breakfast at a restaurant, toast is kind of an add-on. "D'ya want toast with that?" "Sure." "What kind?" "Oh, you know, wheat" - you say "wheat" because you're afraid to say "white." Right? Because white bread represents a commitment to sexual repression, the centrist wing of the Republican Party (which is, what, two people now?), bad nutrition, Barry Manilow and making rude remarks about Wayne Thiebaud. Probably you want the white bread, but you'd never admit that to the waitress. She'd report you.
"We have a white bread on table six. You want I should give him the boot?"
Sometimes you can order sourdough toast - it's the San Francisco treat. It's the Rice-A-Roni of breads.
And what do we say when we order toast for breakfast in a diner? "Just toast," we say. Just toast!
We do not give it a second thought. If we have toast for breakfast, it's some kind of compromise. It's dry toast because we believe that it makes us more virtuous people - although hedge fund managers are famous for their addiction to dry toast - or we put a spread on it, churned cow's milk or some vegetable nonsense designed to taste like churned cow's milk or jam made from the fruits of the valley, and yet we do not spend a moment and thank the earth for these same fruits (oh, and stone fruits are growing, growing - it won't be long now! Peaches! Where are the hymns of praise?).
It's only toast with jam. Do you know how long humans had to work to cultivate grains to make enough flour for you to have even a single piece of bread? Well, neither do I, but I am assured by experts that it was a long time.
But we take it for granted. We take it all for granted. Maybe this is the disease of advanced consumer societies - we take it all for granted. Your toast, for instance, the toast you had this morning. You had it on a plate. Where was the plate made? Who made it? How was it colored or painted? Who decided that that color would be a useful one for a toast plate? How many plates do you own? Right now - without looking: How many plates?
Plates are almost as good as toast, and you don't know how many you have. Why not, today, have a Festival of Plates? Take every plate you own out of its cabinet or whatever and put them all on horizontal surfaces around the home. Those are your plates. All of them. You own them. They are at your disposal. Some of them you didn't even know you had. Some of them you've never used. Well, yes, OK, you developed habits. You developed opinions.
Still, those are all your plates. Be like Anne Lamott - invite your friends over for a Festival of Plates. Ask them to admire their variety, and the skill with which they were manufactured. Consider the supply chain that got the plate from wherever it was made to your house, all the people in that chain, and their families. Make up a story about them. And later on, you can give your guests some toast.
It's all about paying attention. That, and jam.