Saturday, November 15, 2008

Culture Clashes and Clothing Store Crashes

Today is the first day of the Nativity Fast for Orthodox Christians. It’s kind of like Great Lent, the forty days of fasting that precedes Pascha (Easter), only not quite as strict. The purpose of the fast is to help us prepare for the feast—in this case the Feast of the Incarnation of our Lord—Christmas.

During the Nativity Fast we make an effort, each of us to his own ability, to fast from meat and dairy products, and on some days even from alcohol and fish. Sometimes I struggle with the “rules” and have to be reminded of how healthy this balance is for my soul, and for my body.

Problem is, I live in the non-Orthodox South, where most of my neighbors are gearing up for Thanksgiving and Christmas about now… making their own time-honored preparations, decorating their homes and work places, cooking special foods, writing cards and traveling to be with friends and family. But not fasting.

So, when I’m trying really hard (okay, I only try really hard some of the time) to keep the fast, and I’m out running errands and everyone is grabbing a hamburger on the run and stopping at their favorite bar for a drink and shopping and celebrating—40 days before the Feast—it’s a real culture clash for Orthodox Christians. It’s not that we don’t celebrate, but our celebration begins with Christmas, and continues for many days following December 25, culminating in the Feast of Theophany (January 6.)

Social events with lots of food and drink are going on during the time of the fast, the time of preparation for Orthodox Christians. We have extra church services during the fast, and try to make efforts to give alms and pray and worship more. And to hold off on the partying until Christmas.

So on this wintry mid-November day, I decided to try to get into the spirit of the fast by cooking a big pot of fast-friendly soup for us to enjoy for a few days. I found a recipe in the December issue of Real Simple Magazine, and it’s called “Squash and White Bean Soup” and I have to say, it smells yummy! (It's cooking while I'm writing this.) The recipe is here. I’ll be skipping the Parmesan biscuits tonight, since we’re fasting from cheese. If you’re a vegetarian or an Orthodox looking for recipes and encouragement for the fast, here are two blogs to check out (both dear friends of mine): When We Fast… or Not and The Caitlyn-Cosm . (I'm posting this later on Saturday night, and just want to add that we ate the soup for supper and it was yummy!)

And speaking of culture clashes, Nashville author and radio personality, River Jordan, just read my essay, “Are These My People?”on her radio show, “Backstory,” on Radio Free Nashville this afternoon (4-6 p.m.) The essay is about my first visit to the Neshoba County Fair (in July) and the clash of black and white cultures in Mississippi, where I grew up. River also read some post-election essays, and played some great soul music. (And she's got a new book out, Saints in Limbo, that looks intriguing.)

So, I was trying to figure out how to capture her reading of my essay, and being the technically-challenged woman I am, I just pointed my digital camera at the screen and set it on the little icon that looks like a strip of film and pushed the button. As she began to read my essay, I wished I had planned a slideshow to go with it, so, I began searching through My Pictures for pictures of that visit to the Neshoba County Fair, during Rivers' reading of the essay, but by the time I found them, the reading was almost over. The result was a bumpy, amateurish video, which I then tried to download here on my blog, but ran into technical difficulties. sigh. Oh, and I’m not from Oxford, but I see how River could have thought that, since my writers group meets there once a month. If I ever figure out how to download the video, I'll put it in a future blog. For now, you can read the blog post that inspired the essay here, if you missed it back in July.

Next week River is going to look at “the ways writers must preserve the best of the past while looking ahead to the future” on her show Saturday afternoon. I’ll be in Fairhope, Alabama, with my writing buddies at “Southern Writers Reading,” but I hope we can all gather around someone’s laptop and catch River’s show. It’s really a great listen. Is that okay? To use the word, “listen” as a noun, the way people use the word, “read,” as a noun, when they say, about a book, “it’s really a great read”? Maybe I’ll pose that question to William Safire, the guy who does the column for the New York Times Magazine, “On Language.”

Okay, I know I’m rambling now, but I just have to say that more than one friend called me today to say how grieved they are that Harold’s is closing. It’s a Dallas-based high-end, family-owned clothing store that I’ve enjoyed shopping at for the past couple of years here in Memphis, and I have friends who have been doing business with Harolds for many years, in several cities. It’s a sign of the times…and I shutter at what else is coming. Now I know some of you are thinking, “She’s upset about a clothing store closing?” But the point is, why is it closing? It actually declared bankruptcy on Friday, after sixty years. You can watch a news report about it here. So of course I headed out there today to check out their clearance sale, and got a beautiful cashmere sweater. My small effort to help the economy, right? Well, someone has to, so why not me? Or you? Visit a Harold's near you and treat yourself to a bargain while helping ease this family's loss.

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