Monday, July 27, 2020

To thunderous applause summer has finally arrived, clad in its finest Raybans and a too-revealing Speedo. Yesterday, as with today and all ensuing days in the upcoming forecast, I raised the banner of July 22 high above my back yard, as that was National Hammock Day. While I was able to sneak about 20 minutes of semi-quality hammock time in on that auspicious day, I will be roasting my epidermis to a crispy umber over the next week, squeezing in what celebrations present themselves and are willing to fit into a day whose focus will absolutely be the sun. We have been waiting for this. Also, we have been waiting for this:

National Bagel-Fest Day

So what’s the difference between National Bagel Day and National Bagels & Cream Cheese Day and National Bagel-Fest Day? Absolutely nothing. All three are meant to honour the same beloved ring o’ bread, and all three we have celebrated with lox and cream cheese, the way that nature intended.

This one was founded by a guy named Murray Lender, who apparently ran (or possibly still runs) the largest bagel factory in the world, located in Mattoon, Illinois. If you’ve never been aware of the majesty of the bagels from Mattoon, you’re not alone. I guess Lenders Bagels are big in American grocery stores, but I’ve never seen them up here. That said, I do tend to grab most of my bagels from a bakery (Bon-Ton for yesterday’s festivities) and not from the bread section of the supermarket. His bagels look fine – there’s plain, egg dough and onion which all sound tasty. Then you’ve got blueberry, French toast, and cinnamon raisin swirl. I draw the line there.

Bagels don’t need sweetness incorporated into their dough. I can’t imagine plopping a stack of smoked salmon slices atop a cinnamon raisin bagel. I’m all about the plain, the poppyseed, the sesame seed, and even the “everything” bagel, but keep fruit off to the side. Sure, I’m picky. But I also understand that everyone should be celebrating Bagel-Fest in their own way, and since Murray launched this one, I won’t besmirch his product selection.

But we enjoyed bagels the way they were supposed to be enjoyed. Schmeared and loxed up.

National Aunt & Uncles Day

Every day seems to be another excuse to write to a few members of the family and let them know we’re thinking of them. I have a bevy of aunts and uncles who mean the world to me, specifically my mom’s three sisters and their spouses. They were my window into a realm of art, music and culture, not to mention a non-judgmental openness and curiosity about the world. My dad was a blast in some ways, but he had a very narrow view when it came to art and life – one which broadened as he grew older, but which was rather stagnant for my childhood.

My aunts and uncles gave me my first beer. They introduced me to reggae music, ska music, and showed me art can permeate through a house and reflect its residents in an utterly magical fashion. They carried themselves with an unspoken and indirect coolness which I recognized was the “right” sort of coolness: laced with compassion and empathy, and always with humour.

I took a moment yesterday and sent them a message of appreciation, and it felt good. I’ll also give a shout-out to my aunt Bonnie, no longer on this mortal coil, who single-handedly crafted the details of every one of my childhood Christmases. And also to my uncle Rick, who gifted me with my first guitar and all his old Bob Dylan records (which I wore down in a big way). They were all a massive part of forming who I am. The aunts and uncles on my father’s side? Not so much. They couldn’t be bothered. And I’m probably better for it.

This was a great reminder to let the people you appreciate know about it. Each of us has a ticking clock, and those thank-yous need to be spoken before that clock runs out. Much love to all the great aunts & uncles out there.

National Parents Day

So we did a Global Day of Parents on June 1. This one is essentially the same thing, but rather than span the globe it was signed into being by President Clinton back in 1994 for the U.S. of A. Interesting note: it was a bill that was introduced by Republican Trent Lott, so it wasn’t that long ago that a bill could get support from both sides of the aisle. Huh.

To celebrate this day we simply had my mom come by for Sunday dinner – one of the last Sunday dinners we’ll get to enjoy together, as both Jodie and I are set to return to the fetid petri dishes of office buildings and school next month. But we had a delightful time, as always. And she was the only parent who got an invite: my dad passed away years ago, Jodie’s dad lives on the west coast, and her mom… well, her mom also lives far away. We’ll leave it at that.

It wasn’t a dynamic celebration, just a nice few hours of spending time with someone who is an essential component to our family dynamic. Thanks, President Bill, for coming up with an excuse for us to gather and toast this awesome human.

National Wine & Cheese Day

Wine and cheese. What a perfect blend of flavours, even if we celebrated this one a day late. I picked out a nice Chilean cabernet sauvignon for dinner, because I’ve never had a bad experience with Chilean wines and I know almost nothing about picking out a great one. There was no trying to appease Jodie, as I knew she had no interest in sampling the wine. I guess I lucked out; it was tasty.

Oh, but the cheese. The prima donna has been one of our favourites for years. Apparently it was created by a Dutch cheese-lover who had travelled throughout Italy, and who then returned home and tried to funnel all he learned into an Italian-style cheese. It’s aged to perfection and delivers a puckish bite followed by a fulsome flavour. Then of course we had to snag some more of the Wookey Hole aged cheddar because that is the cheese that reflects who I am: aged, evoking images of hairy beasts, and overall quite delightful. Or so I tell myself.

Our plan was to devour this for dinner, but it made for a much more appetizing appetizer. Much better than pork rinds. Sure, we celebrated this one a day late, but our Saturday didn’t really start until about 6:00PM so it was tough to squeak in on time. We were okay with that.

Esperanto Day

A big thanks to L.L. Zamenhof, who got the idea that humanity required a single language to unite it. He wasn’t wrong, and his efforts to create that language from scratch were noble, if not entirely successful.

Let’s have a look at that pair of sentences once more, this time in Esperanto:

Grandan dankon al L.L. Zamenhof, kiu ekhavis la ideon, ke la homaro postulas unu lingvon kunigi ĝin. Li ne malpravis, kaj liaj klopodoj krei tiun lingvon de nulo estis noblaj, se ne tute sukcesaj.

Did you get all that? Probably not, because Esperanto is extremely far removed from English. The internet and social media have shown us that most English-speakers can’t be bothered to learn the proper rules for their own language; asking us all to drop it and learn a new one was never in the cards.

That’s not to say it’s a dead language. If anything, the internet has opened it up even more, allowing people to learn it and speak it with others around the globe. It’s estimated around 100,000 people use the language regularly, and it pops up in over 100 countries. So maybe there’s hope we’ll all drift that way someday. The French Academy of Sciences recommended it for official scientific communication – and some scientists actually bought in. Bill Shatner, the year before he was stationed aboard the Enterprise, acted in an Esperanto film called Incubus.

We won’t be taking any night courses anytime soon to pick up this language, but I’m glad it’s still making waves among some folks. Zamenhof’s goals to unite humanity were noble, if not likely to come to fruition in my lifetime. It was 133 years ago yesterday when Unua Libro, the first Esperanto book, was published by Zamenhof. I look forward to reading it someday, possibly a few lifetimes from now.

National All Or Nothing Day

This is another one of those generic grab-life-by-the-pubes-and-hang-on type of days. We get so many of these, encouraging us to throw caution to the wind and take a big ol’ bite out of the apple of existence. We have so many of these they are actually becoming tiresome.

What did we do yesterday that was “all or nothing”? Well, we celebrated nearly “all” of the days we had on our schedule, with National Coffee Milkshake Day being bumped and World Tofu Day being wiped off the calendar. I suppose we could have gone with “nothing” and just taken it easy, but we had our dinner plans already set, not to mention our bagel brunch plans. That wasn’t happening.

I suppose we went “all-in” on summer yesterday, spending a few hours in the sun, either in our chilled hot tub or Jodie in her patio chair and me in my hammock. It was a magnificent day, and I think we definitely milked it for “all” we could. Not enough? I listened to the Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers song “All Or Nothin’” from their brilliant Into The Great Wide Open album. Satisfied now?

For me, that’s good enough. I’m sure we’ll be told to embrace life again in the next couple of weeks.

Reek Sunday

On the last Sunday of July, folks in Ireland tend to take a little trip. I don’t know if it’s happening in this virus-laden year, but it might be. It’s a journey to Croagh Patrick, a 764-meter mountain that is considered to be the holiest in all of Ireland. There is a chapel on the mountain, and certainly masses are held, but it’s believed this tradition predates Christianity, possibly dating back more than 1,500 years.

Still, the pilgrimage is in honour of St. Patrick. Remember him? The guy whose honorary day is devoted to getting drunk and puking on the street in March? Apparently in the year 441, St. Patty spent 40 days fasting on this mountain. But this journey isn’t just about walking and praying.

The truly devout will make the trek barefoot, as penance for the wrongs they have done. They will walk seven times around the grave of Saint Benigus of Armagh. Then they’ll walk fifteen times around the summit. Another seven trips around Patrick’s Bed, and another seven around the ancient cairns known as Mary’s Cemetery.

Around 100,000 people make the trip up this mountain every year, and nearly a third of those people do it for this special Sunday. From the photos I’ve seen this looks like a crowd-heavy event, so not ideal for Covid conditions I’m sure. But there are always people whose devoutness outweighs their adherence to medical protocols. Best of luck, Irish pilgrims. Stay safe.

One Voice Day

At precisely 6:00PM UT (which is 1:00PM our time), people are called upon to read aloud the text of the Universal Peace Covenant. Yes, this is a day of metaphysics, of pooling one’s faith into the unknown and hoping that a bunch of people reading 577 words out loud might somehow bring about a more peaceful and prosperous world. Pure garbage, right?

Well, no. I refuse to dismiss this, especially after having read the Universal Peace Covenant. It’s a great little declaration, one that our world leaders would benefit from perusing – at least those world leaders whose capacity to read multi-syllabic words is not in question. (Man-Woman-Person-Camera-TV notwithstanding)

We should contemplate world peace every so often, if only to play out in our head some fantastical scenario in which it comes to be. We’d all imagine that in different ways, but the unifying concepts wouldn’t change: peace will be attained when we are connected in a way that cannot deny universal empathy. We need to see one another’s humanity and put into perspective one another’s differences – not erase them, but rather embrace them and weave them into the collective. It’s not likely to come to fruition in my lifetime, any more than we’re likely to see Esperanto bridging us all together linguistically.

But it’s worth thinking about and dreaming about. Which is exactly what we did.

National New Jersey Day

And off we go to the Garden State, as we continue to tour around the nation aboard a culinary ship, sampling the goodies that are popular in each state. A few weeks ago we had a day (or maybe it was a full week) devoted to being nice to New Jersey, which is often the butt of so many jokes. And I get it – the titans of American comedy tend to live in New York, and Jersey sits across the river as an easy target, albeit one that New Yorkers must journey into every time they want to see one of their professional football teams play.

I’ve only seen the smallest bit of New Jersey. One school trip we chaperoned had us staying in Newark and busing to the Holland Tunnel every day. It was about as glorious to look at as the opening credits of The Sopranos. But Jersey has some brilliant history.

The entire state, apart from one single county, falls into the statistical areas of either New York City or Philadelphia. Jersey was at the heart of the industrial revolution, meaning its towns and cities were industry towns and not cultural metropolises. There are more millionaires per capita there than in any other state, and the education system almost always clocks in near the top in the nation. In 1776 they gave the right to vote to all individuals. Well, not married women, since their husbands technically owned stuff. And not to poor people – you had to have a certain amount of wealth. But single women and black people, so long as they had a bit of bank, could cast a vote. That said, they were also the last northern state to abolish slavery. So maybe we’re right to make fun of them for that.

New Jersey’s greatest children are a who’s who of brilliance: you’ve got Kevin Smith from Red Bank, The Boss from Long Branch, ol’ Blue Eyes from Hoboken, Jason Alexander from Newark, Danny DeVito from Neptune Township, Peter Dinklage from Mendham Township, Jerry Lewis from Newark, Jack Nicholson from Neptune City, Marc Maron from Jersey City, Artie Lange from Livingston, Joe Pantoliano from Hoboken, Loretta Swit from Passaic, and that’s just a small sampling of the folks I’m a huge fan of.

For dinner we sampled something called Savoy Chicken. It was either that or a Fat Sandwich, which consists of roast beef, chicken tenders, fries, cheese and gravy on a sandwich, and that felt like just too much food. This was much simpler: just some chicken with a paste of pecorino cheese, garlic, oil, and some spices, with a dash of red wine vinegar. It was also – and this is strange to say – my first attempt at cooking chicken with the skin on. It was a huge success. Absolutely delicious, just like New Jersey.

National Hot Fudge Sundae Day

I have nothing to add here. This was simply the next entry in a long line of sundaes and ice cream days, and we did it right, with plenty of hot fudge, ice cream, sprinkles (newer ones, not the 1991 ones), whipped cream and a cherry. Have a look at the photo. It was a grand celebration.

And off we go into another week, albeit one where I will work only one day (remotely), and then begin my vacation. Here’s what’s up today:

  • National Scotch Day. Drink some scotch? I’m sure I can manage that.
  • National Crème Brulée Day. I see this as being a bit harder to come by. We don’t have those little dishes; might have to make a trip to find some.
  • Take Your Houseplants For A Walk Day. This is pretty self-explanatory.
  • Bagpipe Appreciation Day. Oh crap. Maybe I’ll just appreciate them visually.
  • Cross Atlantic Communication Day. I’ll send a note to a friend who lives on the other side of the ocean.
  • National Chicken Finger Day. I’m just finding out about this now. Not sure we’ll head out for some, but we have that option.
  • Norfolk Day. A very regional celebration. But we’ll send some love to Norfolk.
  • Take Your Pants For A Walk Day. Is this a misspelling of the plants one? I guess we’ll wear pants on our walk.
  • Walk On Stilts Day. I wish!