Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fresca's Blue-Day Hot Toddy

"Obligatory Optimism"
Isn't that a great term? That's a European description of the USA's national ethos, and I agree. It's practically illegal to be sad (and unmedicated) here, and you have to be brave to admit to feeling down and not worried about it.

On top of some sad news, yesterday's cold (in the 40s F) rainy grey made me blue; and instead of trying to cheer myself up, I decided to buck the cultural norm, lie on the couch, read a Finnish suspense novel from the library, and drink hot toddies.
(I boiled the alcohol off, because I read that alcohol can trigger vertigo, and I'm still a bit prone to dizziness when I'm horizontal.)

Here's what I brewed up:

Fresca's Hot Toddy for a Blue Day

1 c. red wine
5 c. water
4 T honey (or to taste)
juice of 2 lemons
grated fresh ginger (about 1 inch of root; or dried ginger)
dash of dried orange peel
pinch of cardamom
touch of sadness (optional)

Bring to boil, then simmer for a few minutes to blend flavors. Add wine at the end, if you don't want to boil off the alcohol.

The Finnish novel I read, Lang, by Kjell Westo, (2006) was too loose to properly be called a suspense novel (probably a marketing ploy anyway); but I enjoyed reading it--finished the whole thing by bedtime--because the author uses Lang, his main character, a TV literary talk-show host in Helsinki, to comment on modern Finnish--and American--culture:
"Country after country developed talk shows aping the puerile cheekiness of Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien. Network after network aired closet-fascist competitive show like ... "Survivor", as well as embarrassing voyeuristic programmes like 'Big Brother' and the money-grubbing game shows 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?'"

But it's not a self-indulgent rant: perfectly, the protaganist ends up on "Who Wants to Be..." himself.

I also got to feel all pleased with myself because when he mentions that his grandfathers died "in the wars" I knew he meant what I'd call WWII, and when he drives down Mannerheim Street, I knew who it was named for, both things I wouldn't have known last week before I started working on Finland.

I don't usually enjoy mystery/detective stories, but reading popular novels is one of the best ways to get at a culture's assumptions and habits. (I have a friend who taught herself Spanish reading Mexican romance novels.)

When I was working on Algeria, this novel, Double Blank, by Algerian Yasmina Khadra (pen name of Mohammed Moulessehoul) gave me more insight into what it might be like to live in Algeria than anything else I read. It's political stuff, necessarily touching on terrorism and so forth--not completely without hope, but the opposite of obligatory optimism--but I'd also recommend it as a plain old good read too.

Its author said [click on name above for interview with Khadra]:
"I dreamed of writing station books, books funny and without claim, that you could read while waiting for the train or the bus, or while gilding yourself with the sun at the seaside. I dreamed to reconcile the Algerian reader with his literature. I had never thought that Superintendent Llob was going to exceed the borders of the country and appeal to readers in Europe, and America."


ArtSparker said...

The idea of station books is very amusing, since books , as you point out, take us to other destinations.

Fresca said...

Yes, the translation of the interview was a little unusual, but I too like the idea of a "station book."

I read a lot of nonfiction in my geography work, but there's nothing like fiction for local flavor.

deanna said...

Mm, a hot red wine drink and a good book. I can imagine a lot worse things to occupy oneself with on a blue day.

I so agree about the "obligatory optimism." Hadn't heard the term, but I see it all around. Haven't other Americans read Ecclesiastes?

Nancy said...

"Obligatory optimism" indeed true. "Pathological individualism" is a term I came upon in an article about WASP family dynamics written for counselors. Whoa, my brain said,you betcha'! That's what I was seeing when no member of his family (mother, father, grandma) offered a steadying hand to my three year old second cousin as he attempted to board a canoe tipping back and forth in deep water. Incredibly, he made it.

Gotta love us.

momo said...

Yes! I wish my students would get that literary texts or just plain old fiction is also "culture" and one of the best ways they can get what they seem to want when they whine about how we are not teachig them about "culture."
When the weather changes, one's body is ruffled like the leaves, and it is not unusual to experience melancholy. I always have trouble sleeping at this moment in the fall when the big weather systems change; it's the barometric pressure, making all our fluids readjust.

Fresca said...

DEANNA: Seems if we've read Ecclesiastes, we've skipped the "time for sorrow" part, eh?

NANCY: That's it! If you can get in the boat yourself, you deserve to survive, and thrive. Brutal, but effective.

MOMO: I suppose your students want cultural "facts"?
Thanks for pointing out that changing seasons ruffle our bodies---lovely image, and very fitting, and yes, melancholy inducing.
When the crisp bright cold comes, I'll be all energetic, but now I am grieving with the golden leaves.