I had time to ponder the consequences of excess a couple of nights ago. I’d been to the Slow Food Annual Cookbook Exchange, held this year at The Whole Beast Artisan Salumeria. Mmm. There was an array of housemade charcuterie, bread and pickled beans and carrots to welcome us, followed by an impressive five course dinner. It was served family style, each dish brought to the table and served amongst the guests. It was all sumptuous, but there was a lot of meat. A. Lot. I guess I could have anticipated that, heading off to dinner in a fancy butcher shop/deli. Let’s just say I didn’t sleep very well. In the morning I was looking for some sympathy, claiming something had disagreed with me, but as I described the evening’s Rabelaisian proportions Dave offered me a little reality check: “You just ate too much.” I dismissed this statement at first. I’ve never eaten to the point of feeling ill before. And what did he know? The man has the appetite of a sparrow – this is partly why I joined Slow Food, so I could go revel in flavours with other people who get it.
But then he drove the point home.
“Five courses? Salami, lamb, pork and then bacon ice cream? You know, when the Roman empire went down it was because of excess. When history books look back at the end of the American Empire, bacon ice cream will be cited as an example.”
Suddenly a light went off. It wasn’t so much about the dinner – deep down I knew he was right. He has a gift for cutting through to the essence of a problem. My little epiphany was more about this time we live in and how so much of what is going on right now is a consequence of excess. I had a yoga teacher who once described something as an elusive obvious, and I think that this is one of those things – a simple truth that somehow gets away from us. It strikes me that perhaps this is the common purpose of all the Occupiers- whatever you may think of them – they do serve to remind us of that elusive obvious; that excess is our downfall. It’s true on all levels. We can ignore it, but there’s really no escaping it.
It made me understand why the holiday season so often makes me feel much like I did the other night. Restless, clammy and uncomfortable. It’s turned into a festival of excess in an era that already reeks of it. Last Saturday night, a small group of Occupiers quietly strolled down Government St, trailing the Santa Parade by a substantial police-enforced buffer zone. I happened to be standing next to a man in a wheelchair, wearing a Santa hat that had a pin on it which read “Occupy Together”. We struck up a conversation, and he told me it had been his idea for the Occupiers to participate in the parade. “We just want to rebrand a bit, you know – people just think of the tents and drugs now. That’s not what it’s about.” I watched the signs go by. Stop Corporate Santa. Dear Santa, All I Want for Christmas is an End to Child Labour. A Better World is Possible.
There wasn’t a one I didn’t agree with.
Eighteen years ago, my mother took me to New York for my 16th birthday. It was my first real trip to New York, and one of the only times I travelled alone with my mother. We stayed with old Cambridge friends of hers who live in a penthouse on the Upper West Side and had worked for one of the big publishing houses. As I remember it, almost every square inch of wall in that apartment was covered in bookshelves. We walked through Central Park and went to the Met. We took a long bus ride all the way up through the Bronx to the Cloisters. It was one of those perfect crisp New York fall days, and there were still ripe quince hanging on trees in the gardens. One day we spent a good long time in the Strand, and my mum bought me a collection of Walt Whitman. It was a memorable trip for all these reasons. But what I remember most is how whenever I was starting to flag a bit – getting tired of walking, or looking at art or books, my mum would say it was time to find a bench or a coffee shop and sit down for a bit. She knew just how to pace it so we didn’t overdo it.
As I head into the next year of my life, I’m thinking that’s going to be my new goal. To trim the excess. And if excess has an antidote, I think it must be gratitude, so I’m going to start off by saying thank you to my mum. Thank you, Mama. Thanks for giving birth to me 34 years ago. Thanks for raising me and for taking me to New York and for giving me a good sense of direction and for teaching me how to use public transit.
I could go on, but I know how to pace it so I don’t overdo it. (Sometimes).