Tuesday, August 30, 2011

To Farmer's Market We Go!

Farmers Markets are festive events that connect communities with individual farmers and other vendors. It's popular today for people to gather in the streets or parks of their cities or towns on weekends or in the evenings after work to sell their wares: meats, fruits, vegetables, beverages, prepared foods, and arts and crafts. This community event which has rapidly expanded across the nation is a hybrid of earlier days when people took their goods to a common outdoor site for barter and sale.Open air markets - once a standard way for people to get supplies - quickly dwindled once the shopping market came along. With the retail brick and mortar locations came delivery of foods from other places; foods that were foreign, so to speak. Imagine a pineapple or mango in a Kansas open-air market, for example.

The tradition of growing and supporting local businesses, fostered by a wave of eco-friendly lifestyle changes led to the revival of what call today The Farmer's Market.

In 1934, a group of farmers in Los Angeles decided to bring their rurally grown produce to the heart of the urban city. They displayed vegetables, fruits, and flowers from the backs of their trucks and everyone enjoyed the opportunity this presented them. From there the farmers’ spontaneous idea grew into a contemporary event.

Pretty soon the spot became known as Farmer's Market and, hence, developed into a national institution with over 5,000 markets across the country, all promoting the core idea of buying from local producers. They have become individualized to suit the needs of individual communities. Some have dancing, music, art,others have sports and/or pony rides.

In Sonoma County where I live there is a Farmers Market in almost every town. Rohnert Park and Cotati, for example, offer delicious food, wine/beer, art activities and other entertainment activities suitable for those of all ages.

These examples of Farmers Markets harken back to the days when and they also reach into a sustainable future with organic, tasty products.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Washboards: A Folk Music Transformation

For centuries, musical instruments have evolved from their simpler origins into complex tools of melodies. Many have continued to be played in ways that are similar to their first use, but one unexpected instrument has had such a complete transformation from its original purpose that it’s made more than 180 degree turn around. The washboard made its musical transformation in the early 1900’s when it was adopted by a new age revolutionary era of music.

Before its musical debut, the washboard was widely known in the 18th and 19th century as a tool used to dry off articles of washed clothing. It was comprised of a rectangular wooden frame with a configuration of multiple ridges down the middle where clothes were rubbed on to drain off the water out. Then came the 1920’s with its “Roaring Twenties” jazz culture.

With the inclusion of metal in the washboard’s structure, the washboard morphed from almost daily household use to an instrument of modern music. It grew in popularity among zydeco (product of the blues genre), jazz, jug bands (used home-made instruments) and other forms of folk music.

Musicians who used the washboard would wear metal thimbles on most of their fingers, and strum the, along the ridges of the washboard. A thin piece of rope or string was worn around the musician’s neck and attached to the washboard for stability. The results included zany and rhythmically enhancing sounds that infused folk music with a new style.

Like most instruments, the washboard’s structure and usage went through several transitions. In zydeco music, the washboard took the name “frottoir.” In time it was created to with metal ridges and was worn like a vest. The thimbles were replaced by spoon handles or bottle openers in an assortment of strumming and tapping movements. In jug bands, the washboard acted as the drums and was played as the back beat to other instruments.

Seen as the “poor man’s instrument,” the washboard helped to usher in a new era of instruments and melodies. Its popularity flourished in the “Flapper Era” while keeping its southern rhythm and blues tempo. As is the case with all folklore, this folk musical instrument was adopted by people to meet different, yet specific times and needs.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ice Cream: The Sweet Stuff of Summer

One legend has it that ice cream originated from China and slowly made its way around the world. But there are also other legends about this popular summer time treat.Citizens of the Persian Empire are believed to have eaten concentrated grape juice over ice in approximately 400 B.C. Ingredients such as rose water, nuts and saffron were mixed in for a sweeter taste. It is believed that Arabs were the first to incorporate cream or milk. The recipe dates back to ancient Mesopotamian, Greek, or Roman recipes and became widely manufactured by the 10th century.

The Chinese have been credited with inventing the tool to make sorbet or ice cream as we know it today. They started by mixing in the ingredients, heating them, and then cooling them at below freezing temperatures. The tale continues that Marco Polo visited and passed on the techniques to Italy, where they altered it to make what is known as gelato.

Due to lack of modern-day refrigeration, it was a hefty task to produce ice cream. Many times, slaves ventured in to the mountains to retrieve snow, which was stored under ground or in brick ice houses to keep cool. It was an expensive treat, which made it exclusive to royalty until about the 16-1700s.

During the wedding of Italian duchess Catherine de' Medici to the Duc d’OrlĂ©ans in 1533, it has been rumored that Catherine brought Italian chefs over to France in order to serve ice cream in honor of their wedding.

The first traces of published recipes of ice cream begin in the 1600s. The Oxford English Dictionary recognized ice cream for the first time in 1744. In Colonial America, ice cream was introduced by Quakers and eventually enjoyed by early presidents such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. At inaugural ball of President James Madison, his First Lady Dolley Madison served ice cream as a treat.

The Industrial Age played a large part in the mass production of ice cream. In the 1800's inventions like the small-scale, hand-cranked ice cream freezer by Nancy Johnson set a new standard. The American sweet tooth grew with the innovative ice cream twists that appeared on the scene: ice cream sundae, ice cream soda, and the ice cream cone developed in the early 20th century were among the more popular versions.

The World’s Fair is said to have been the birthplace of the ice cream cone. Although there is no 'hard proof' other than that of folk lore, the story goes that when the ice cream booth ran out of cardboard to serve its ice cream on, the neighboring waffle stand gave them waffles to use. The result: the waffle cone.

There were even instances of ice cream parlors replacing bars and saloons during prohibition as a place for Americans to come together and socialize.

Throughout the 20th century, ice cream has taken on a variety of forms and been modified in many ways, but it’s ability to create a sense of instant joy still holds true today. Ice cream is known as a carefree, youthful treat that can be savored by all.

Friday, August 5, 2011

History: Fact, Fiction or Folklore?

After attending the opening night of Marin Shakespeare Company's The Complete History of America (abridged) I'm convinced that the one who tells the American story holds the key to its truth. And the version this production tells is definitely worth seeing!

Actors Darren Bridgett, Cassidy Brown and Mick Mize under the direction of Robert Currier led the audience on a wild goose chase across the 200+ landscape of American history. Sitting beneath the stars at the Forest Meadows Amphitheater (Dominican University, San Rafael, CA) everyone was kept spell bound as the cast romped merrily from Amerigo Vespucci to President Barak Obama in less than two hours.

They held us captive as they zig-zagged into and out of American aspirations, ingenuity and inspirations. From start to finish, well-timed antics and patriotic colors framed this fast-paced production that ultimately showed us how Americans - a unique species on the planet - may not really be so different from their neighbors.

For example, their renditions of a Civil War slide show with Yankees and Confederates posing mid-war for posterity suggests we all are looking for moments of glory. The sleuthing efforts of Detective Sam Spade tell us that lone, crime-solving tough guys really may not be so tough when it comes to love.

I have written before that the distance between folklore and history is not as vast as many would think. This play confirms for me that while history chronicles the data of events in a particular documented sequence (who did what when), it is the folklore - the beliefs, traditions and customs of a certain people - that actually fill in the blanks of our humanity.

The actors' perfect timing and obvious chemistry captured the audience's attention. Not a moment was wasted. Even my teenage daughter and her twenty-something cousin were kept in stitches as the scenes flew by, reminding all of us - regardless of our age - how we got from Vespucci's map to President Obama's bump and grind.

The play, made popular by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, runs through September 25. Here are the details:
The Complete History of America (abridged)

Forest Meadows Amphitheater, Dominican University,1475 Acacia Ave., San Rafael, CA
Box Office: (415) 499-448.
Photo by Eric Chazankin

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Amazing Grace is for Wretches

Amazing Grace is one of the most popular songs in the English-speaking language. Written by John Newton and published in 1779, it remains a treasured part of Christianity. Of course, it can be interpreted in many ways and means something different to everyone. Newton, being the author, wrote it as a lonely, foul-mouthed sailor participating in the slave trade, who suddenly received his calling from God. He spent most of his life at sea and prided himself on the fact that he could produce such profanity that no one had even heard of at the time. He lived a dangerous life, having near death experiences far too often. After one night at sea during a rigorous storm, he shouted, “If this will not do, then Lord, have mercy upon us!” This was the first time that he reached out to God to protect him, and it left him pondering. For the next eleven hours he steered the ship, contemplating what he had said and how God and Christianity had come into his life at that very moment. When he reached land, an enlightened Newton dedicated his life to the religion. He proposed to the love of his life, stopped sailing, and settled down in a small town to study theology.

John Newton wrote the song and connected to it in a very literal way. For him it meant that forgiveness is possible, even given the sins you may commit, and that a person’s soul can be saved from despair through the grace of God. He probably referred to himself as a “wretch” because of his destructive lifestyle as a filthy sailor and a heartless slave trader. Everyone, however, interprets this song differently. Many people also experience life changing events such as being almost killed, which make them reconsider the direction their life is going in.
This song has the capability to inspire people to realize their potential.

It certainly inspired journalist and playwright David Templeton at the ripe age of eleven. This is when he decided to be a “Born Again” Christian. Interestingly enough, he also decided against it years later. Today he still holds true to Christian values, treasuring the parts that still resonate most with him. He has written a one man-show called, “Wretch Like Me” which explores his experience with the religion throughout his teenage years. The comedy conveys what it was like growing up in Southern California, with a suicidal lounge sister for a mother and trying to fit in to the Downey High Jesus Club, all while struggling with the idea of what it means to be a good Christian.

The show has been called, “relentlessly funny,” “charming,” “magical,” “hysterical,” and “unforgettable” by a variety of theater critics. Templeton says that he became obsessed with the song at an early age and even memorized it front and back. When he turned 20 however, he turned his back on Christian fundamentalism asking himself, “Is it really a good thing to train ten year-olds to believe they are wretched, worthless, unworthy?” Templeton also states that the reason he chose the phrase “Wretch Like Me” for the title of his show is because it embodies the struggle he has had with the religion. He believes that it is his job to help create the world that Jesus had envisioned, “a world where everyone knows they are loved by someone, and no one ever has to feel like a wretch”.
“Wretch Like Me” is playing:

• August 5 & 6 at Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma
• August 26 & 27 at Santa Rosa Junior College
• September 9 & October 19 at Main Stage West in Sebastopol