I arrived in Paris this morning. I deliberately chose an apartment in a neighborhood known for its food. An historical marker notes, “Mecca of gastronomy and alimentary commerce since the thirteenth century… known especially for oysters. Since 1794 the restaurant "Au rocher de Cancale" has been celebrated for its seafood, immortalized in the "Comedie Humaine" and frequented by Balzac, Alexandre Dumas, Theophile Gautier, Eugene Sue.” (My translation)
This street includes the oldest patisserie in the city. Their website explains, “In the year of grace 1725, Louis XV married Marie Leszczynska, daughter of King Stanislas of Poland. His pastry chef Stohrer follows her to Versailles. Five years later, in 1730, Nicolas Stohrer opened his bakery at 51 rue Montorgueil in the second arrondissement of Paris. In its kitchen, where desserts were invented for the Great Court, king’s delights are still prepared.”
The street also includes several cheese shops, a fruit stand that people were willing to stand in line at on a Sunday morning, and of course, many sidewalk cafes.
As soon as we dropped our suitcases, we headed out to have brunch – coffee, baguettes, ham and cheese omelets. And to watch the people, of course.
Some people come to Paris for the art or the fashion or the romance. I come for the food, but not just the sensual pleasure of eating; I get a special kind of thrill from connecting with foodways that have been operating continuously for so long.
For one thing, traditionally prepared food doesn’t have a lot of added chemicals, coloring, or preservatives. Even the white flour, white sugar creations at the patisserie don’t have dough conditioners and guar gum. The food is mostly made by hand. These are not empty calories. It is dense in nutrients (even the patisserie uses real fruit, eggs, and cream) but also something deeper.
People in this street care about where their food comes from, how it’s prepared, and how it’s eaten. Food here is not something to be hurried over or eaten standing up. People who uphold these traditions understand that food nourishes more than our bodies. Food is also a connection to a place - there's a lot of mention of terroir, the unique properties imbued in a product by the territory where it is grown or produced. It's a connection in time - to this moment and these people we are enjoying it with but also to all the people who have created this tradition over time.
And ultimately, for me at least, a meal which includes being mindful of its history and taken joyfully in the moment nourishes my soul.
Some definitions of custom and tradition are ; an inherited pattern of thought or action or a practice of long standing. One of the things I have had to do as I have walked through the various stages of my life is come to a place of self awareness that allows me the opportunity to investigate thought and behavioral patterns. In order to actually stay in line with my goals and desires I need to regularly practice self examination. The systems I have used to do that have varied over time and place becoming traditional and then shifting into new customs as the old practices no longer suit my changing lifestyle or values.
Movement is one way to enrich that process and practice. I have incorporated various mindful movement techniques over the years to help implement my self investigation practices. For example: the act of mindful walking brings me back into right relationship with my breath and my body, thus calming my mind and helping me formulate my questions to myself regarding my actions and attitudes.
I have used sacred dance as another way to "cleanse the mental palette" in order to focus on those old customs I have been adhering to which no longer serve me. The process of releasing long held patterns and practices is not an overnight endeavor. Yoga and Tai Chi are practices which can be implemented anywhere with relatively small space requirements. Choosing a movement practice that is appropriate to where I am physically helps me to reach my aims mentally as well.
In order to have a good grounding in who, what and where I am, I have to use a number of different tools.
Traditions and customs help center me in a specific time and place in my life and also afford me the opportunity of benefitting from my predecessors knowledge and wisdom. When I avail myself of some the historic traditions and customs I am presented with I can benefit from applying hard earned life lessons to my present day. I have to remember that flow and fluidity need to be present in my application of traditions. Its important to recognize that rigidity can lead to stagnation and flexibility can inform change. If I remain light hearted about my pursuit of self knowledge and desire to remain centered in life's flow - opportunites to implement variations on a theme will seem like opportunity rather than endings.
In June, Sunday papers bloom with wedding announcements. It seems like couples across the US tie the knot this month. But, why? I began to wonder how this tradition came to be.
From my search, I learn that this is quite an ancient – as in, early Roman – tradition. Juno, the goddess of marriage and childbirth, was honored on June 1st.
And, Romans considered May the month of the “unhappy dead”. So, the not-so-merry month of May just didn’t seem, shall we say, quite right.
Further questing reveals that the term “honeymoon” may derive from “mead moon”, the first full moon (usually in July) after the summer solstice. Mead is made from fermented honey.
As with many long-standing traditions, the origins of the June wedding have faded from sight. And, ancient practices, such as reverence for the goddess Juno, no longer prompt couples to take their vows exclusively in June. Hence, other months now have their share of nuptials.
Traditional practices are powerful ways to embody significant beliefs, and create cohesion among those who share them. They can re-ignite commitment to values that may be lost in day-to-day routines. Yet, traditions can lose their power when, for example, they no longer speak to who we are, now. Sometimes, new ones are invented in response to new circumstances.
Years ago, in my birth family, the commitments of young adulthood took some of us away from the communal Thanksgiving table. My father created a “Saturday-after-Thanksgiving” meal at a restaurant - his treat (!) – which allowed us to celebrate as a family when we could not do so on the national holiday. This tradition continued for several decades before declining in response to other circumstances.
Traditions can be uncomplicated and delightful, like having “date night” once a week, so couples can revel in each other’s company away from the usual distractions. My partner and I continue to keep Monday evenings just for that purpose. On the other hand, we both came to see that our tradition of sending monthly cards to each other on our anniversary date had lost its sense of specialness beyond our 2nd year together. But, not a bad run! :-)
Whatever tradition(s) you uphold, we hope they are life-giving for you. If not, you may wish to explore:
If you feel a new tradition would support your new circumstances, you may wish to explore:
We welcome your stories about the place of traditions in your lives.
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