Sunday, March 22, 2020

Today’s trip to get supplies – hopefully the last such trip for a while – was less successful. The landscape of the Sobey’s in the west end of town is littered with empty shelves and depleted resources. Tragically, we have had to cancel our plans to celebrate National Lobster Newberg Day on Wednesday. Yes, this is the true catastrophe of these dark times. No Lobster Newberg. At least today we can count down the top 11 things to celebrate on March 21:

#11 – Walk In The Sand Day

Obviously at the bottom of the list because it should only be done if you live on private beachfront property. We do not. In fact, the only way we could walk in the sand was if we obtained a bunch of sand and poured it out on our floor. Or on the excessive amount of snow outside. This date falls on the first Saturday after the spring equinox, but it’s about three months early by my count.

Beach preservationist Patti Jewel founded this day to encourage us to get out and enjoy our beaches, to indulge in the extra exercise achieved by sand-walking, and to share the experience with those who are tragically land-locked. Given the news stories of moronic bros and bro-ettes cavorting around Florida beaches this week because spring break is more important than shutting down a pandemic, I’m thinking this day is a complete wash. At least for 2020.

Not that we will be any closer to sand next year at this time. Well… there are a couple days this year in which we will be buying a lottery ticket, so who knows?

#10 – Memory Day

I rated this one quite low because I can’t find a thing about it online. It’s Memory Day, that much I can pinpoint, but who started it and why? There’s nothing. One site suggests doing one of those memory testing games online, which seems kind of weak. Instead, as someone who regularly engages in battle with their short term memory through regular bombardment of cannabinoids, I’m going to present a few nuggets of knowledge about our memory:

  • Genes that play a pivotal role in memory and learning reduce with age. After 40, that’s when things start going downhill. So much for me ever becoming fluent in Esperanto.
  • Stressful life experiences might speed that memory loss along, so the key is to live as chill and stress-free as possible. One way to do that is to not have to remember too much, which brings it all full-circle.
  • Healthy eating and physical fitness can improve one’s memory, so there’s another reason to feel guilty about storing all those old clothes on the treadmill in the basement.
  • Plants have a special organ devoted to retaining memories. So that time you screamed racial epithets at your ficus? Yeah, it remembers that.
  • There are numerous mnemonics (or mnumerous mnemonics) and memory enhancement strategies you could take if you really wanted to sharpen your hippocampus into a stabby weapon. Check out the Five x Five System, the Method of Ioci, or even the mnemonic major system if you have to memorize a bunch of numbers.

The brain can be exercised like any human muscle, and the memory is one of the best ways to enhance your think-slab to work better for you. So do it!

#9 – International Colour Day

While the day is meant to be devoted to wearing colours, checking out some colourful artwork or learning about light and design, I’m a bit more interested in the people who came up with this celebration. The Portuguese Color Association developed the day in 2008, then presented it to the International Colour Association. I had no idea such an association existed.

The International Colour Association (or AIC because their official language is French) puts out a regular journal with such topics as “Image categorization based on the spatiochromatic information” and “The social optics of a color neologism.” This isn’t so much an authority who will produce a never-before-seen shade of yellow, but they work with numerous industries to educate and inform, and to study the effects of various shades of yellow.

We tend to keep our lives filled with colour and light, even when the landscape outside remains overbearingly white. Yesterday we wore colours and appreciated them – a fine celebration, though somewhat unexciting. Let’s see if we can do better.

#8 – World Puppetry Day

Originated by Iranian puppet artist Javad Zolfaghari in 2000, this is a day to celebrate the art of puppetry around the world. He presented the concept at the XVIII Congress of the Union Internationale de la Marionette, which means there are numerous organizations out there that I’ve never heard of and am learning about as I write this piece. And people said self-isolation was going to be boring.

The first records of puppetry theatre can be traced back to the 5th century BC in Greece. It likely stretches way before that – in fact some historians argue that puppets pre-date actors on stage. You don’t see a lot of marionette shows these days, except at festivals or the occasional street performer. It’s not a dying art form, but rather one reduced in scope and impact. There will likely never be a renaissance of puppetry, at least not one that will overtake popular culture, but the art won’t die either.

Today puppetry dominates on Sesame Street, and the Muppets are still popping up here and there. Ventriloquism is another form of poetry, albeit one that should probably stay near the bottom rungs of the cultural ladder. Head over to the Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna and you’ll find a marionette theatre that will perform full operas and musicals. Puppetry has even found its way onto Broadway, with the show Warhorse, and my personal favourite musical, Avenue Q. In Australia, puppetry can be traced back thousands of years to carved masks and objects, right up to modern times, in which a group of men toured the world performing Puppetry of the Penis, a show in which they manipulated their own junk into weird shapes.

All this proves that puppetry ain’t dead. It’s just gotten weirder. To commemorate the day, I put on a quick puppet show for the dogs, using their stuffed toys. It lasted briefly, as both Liberty and Rosa felt the characters in the scene should be chewed upon.

#7 – National Common Courtesy Day

Not to harp on the headlines that are harpooning our world and dragging it into a chum-soaked frenzy, but we are in a unique period of history in which our common courtesy is going to define us. Seriously, you can look at how a person behaves in a strange situation like this and learn all about them. I spoke to a lady yesterday who told me of a cop who came into her store on Friday, talking about having arrested two men who were physically brawling over toilet paper at Walmart. One man needed some for his family. The other planned to sell it on eBay for a profit. That is truly all you need to know about that second guy – I don’t care if he has “redeeming qualities”, he is sentient excrement.

Our plan had been to drive around yesterday, to try to nudge our way into busy lanes and test the common courtesy of Edmonton drivers. My fellow Edmontonians are no doubt already chuckling at this concept – our town is known for having anti-courteous drivers at any time of day. But there wasn’t enough traffic yesterday to put this to the test.

We got cut off a few times, but everyone was firing thank-you or I’m-sorry waves. Courtesy and consideration appeared to be in abundance, as everyone seemed to be shoring up their necessities for the next couple of weeks. Well, except those folks in the nail salon. Why is a nail salon still open? I suppose that’s a question for someone else to answer.

We can’t state this strongly enough: our common courtesy will be what gets us through this weird blip in the cosmic sea. People who are hoarding, or worse yet gouging – and as an employee in the consumer protection wing of our government, I can assure you there is plenty of gouging going on – these are the people we need to call out. And those who take the extra effort to reach out and help, or even to be kind and share the abundance our stores and our society offers, those are the good ones. Thank you to all who are among the good ones. Now stay home and let this shit pass us.

#6 – National Fragrance Day

Will this shock you if I tell you this day was conceived by a bunch of perfume manufacturers? It shouldn’t. National Fragrance Day has been around since the 80s, designed for us to appreciate the fragrances we spurt all over ourselves in order to appear presentable to the outside world.

Jodie enjoys the classic scent of Chanel No. 5, and on her it totally works. When we first started dating she was more into a Givenchy perfume, and I recall her leaving me with a scented card when she went out of town one time, so that I could bask in her essence. It worked too – the sense of smell is acute and powerful, and could easily link this day with Memory Day.

I don’t wear any fragrances, possibly because my dad’s scent of choice was Brut, which I found smelled a bit like what I’d imagine a brothel smells like. But a low-end brothel, the kind that would struggle to obtain a legit licence in Nevada. Instead I wear Gillette clear gel antiperspirant, which comes in three delightful, vaguely-named fragrances: Power Rush, Cool Wave and Arctic Ice. They also made a scent called ‘Undefeated’, which I used once and nearly gagged on. I lean toward the Cool Wave, not because I like it the most, but because that’s what Costco sells and I don’t like to think about buying antiperspirant more than once every eight months.

Yesterday we observed our own delightful fragrances. It wasn’t a mighty celebration, and makes me think I should have dropped this one down a couple notches on our countdown. Oh well, on to the next.

#5 – World Poetry Day

We’ve already had Poetry at Work Day, and April boasts a day for haikus and another for poetry reading. In the celebrations racket, toasting poetry is pretty standard stuff. This one carries with it a smidgen more gravitas however – this is the United Nations’ homage to poetry.

World Poetry Day was proclaimed back in 1999. UNESCO felt poetry was ideal for capturing the creative spirit, and this day is meant to “encourage linguistic diversity through poetic expression.” So it’s a day for us to acknowledge poets all around the world, not just the big names.

We both adore poetry, and took a moment yesterday before dinner to recite a favourite poem to one another (and to the dogs, but they were more interested in the impending food situation). Live poetry readings and recitals are the standard celebration for this day, but of course that’s another art form that has taken a blow from current events. Our poetry reading had to be done privately. We encourage anyone with a favourite poem or poet to scroll through and read some out loud – it’s through hearing poetry that the magic is unleashed. The words may dance on the page, but it’s the way poetry swirls through the airwaves that brings it to life.

#4 – National French Bread Day

Okay, this one could have landed at #1. French bread is one of the finest breads. We grab a baguette whenever it might enhance dinner, and that’s rather often. Even yesterday, dinner was burgers, but we picked up some bread anyway. Well, we did it for this National Day I suppose, but still.

The most common way to find French bread is in baguette form, though you can also buy the shorter, fatter loaves. The baguette as we know it probably first showed up in the 1700s. French bakers switched over to gruau, which is a Hungarian type of high-milled flour in the 1800s, then with the advent of Viennese steam oven baking and the invention of compact yeast later that century, the baguette assumed its current standard.

And what a standard it is. The French actually have set specifics as to what constitutes French bread. It may contain up to 2% broad bean flour (which comes from fava beans), up to 0.5% soya flour, and up to 0.3% wheat malt flour. The dough is established by French law, but the shape may vary. A good French bread can be made into amazing French toast, it can deliver the finest PB&J, and it should even be wonderful on its own, no accompaniment. Last night’s bread was a treat, as expected.

#3 – National Countdown Day

I only placed this one up near the top of the list so that my readers would wonder why the hell I’m counting down the celebrations for the first time in this little experiment. This day was actually concocted by the folks at National Day Calendar, one of my primary sources for this mission. They call it #321Day, so I guess that hashtag will get attached to this article.

On July 4, 1970, DJ Casey Kasem launched American Top 40, a weekly radio countdown of the nation’s top hits, on seven radio stations. The first episode happened to land on the last week that Elvis and the Beatles would have songs in the top 10 at the same time. By the early 80s, when I started listening every week, the show had expanded from 3 hours to 4, and 520 stations in the US (plus, obviously, several in Canada).

Billboard magazine had been publishing record charts for decades when Casey went on the air, but there was something about the drama of hearing the list played counting toward the #1 song. Casey would fill the spaces between the music with fascinating narratives about the performers, the producers and the songwriters. It was must-hear radio every week, back when we followed the heights of pop music. Today the show continues, hosted by Ryan Seacrest and featuring mostly music we have no interest in.

But the countdown was a game-changer. Dave Letterman adopted it for his nightly Top Ten feature. MTV jumped on board with music videos. Now there are shows scattered all over cable, counting down the top 10 most haunted bathrooms in Wyoming, or the top 10 greatest pizza cities on the planet (Edmonton is #8 somehow!). A countdown is quick and simple linear drama, and we love it.

#2 – National Quilting Day

Quilting. The act of creating a personal piece of art that you can later sleep under. The National Quilting Association created this day back in 1991, and it’s a good time to reflect on this very vivid and lively art form. Again, our plans changed slightly: we were going to head to my aunt Kathy’s place and admire the work she has done on quilts. Instead we chatted via Facetime and admired her work from afar, on a tiny screen, with no sense of how the quilts felt. That strikes me as an important facet of quilting, but what do I know? We’re all on lockdown; this couldn’t be avoided.

The earliest quilted garment can be traced back to 3400 BC. Quilting – for those who may not know – is the act of sewing two or more layers of fabric together to produce a thicker padded material. When a group of people gather together to quilt at the same time, they call it a bee. Why a bee? I have no idea. Knitters use that term as well, as do spellers, though that’s more of a competitive thing. Whatever. Back to quilting.

My aunt showed me a number of her pieces, including some which were entered into competition. The one pictured above is part of a very personal piece, which she crafted after having survived the gauntlet of breast cancer. The common thread (ha – that’s another pun for those keeping track) with all her pieces is colour, rich and vibrant. This ties into International Colour Day, so we are truly making connections all over today’s article. My aunt creates these for art and not so much for coziness, but it’s in the art where the beauty of this activity lies. I’m proud to have so many artists in my family: musicians, stitchers, dancers, sketchers and quilters. And, I guess, celebrators, if you can call this an art. Thanks, auntie!

#1 – National California Strawberry Day

For our devout love of strawberries, this celebration clocks in at the top of yesterday’s hit parade of too many celebrations. We celebrated as one might expect, by devouring some of nature’s sweetest and most perfect fruit. Beggars, at least when it comes to grocery stores right now, cannot be choosers though, so we had to settle for Mexican strawberries. That’s fine – there are three other strawberry celebrations this year (at least), including National Strawberry Day, which we celebrated on February 27, and two consecutive days in May.

On February 27 we delved into the history of strawberry cultivation, which only goes back maybe 250 years. No need to go through all that again. Yesterday we focused simply on enjoying the berries and celebrating their flavour. We used some of our left over chocolate sauce from National Pears Helene Day last Sunday, and made some whipped cream. We even upped the stakes and enjoyed some marshmallow strawberry treats. Did they come from California? Who cares? They were delicious.

Happy day to all of you, wherever your strawberries may have come from.

Finally, we can take our feet off the gas and have an easier day.

  • National Goof Off Day. I’ve been training my entire life for this day.
  • Bavarian Crepes Day. We were hoping to go out and enjoy these… perhaps we’ll figure out how to make them.
  • National West Virginia Day. Our tour around America brings us to the state where pepperoni rolls are a big thing. Awesome!
  • As Young As You Feel Day. If we goof off the way we should, this may yield positive results.

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