New adventures, old traditions
Some people can listen to the same CD over and over again.
I’m not one of those people.
Even my most recently purchased CDs seldom get played more than once in a row, and I usually buy several CDs at the same time to ensure that I have a variety of new music to keep me entertained.
I have a similar attitude toward almost everything I do.
I rarely rewatch movies, though there are exceptions: I picked up a copy of the 2008 Coen Brothers comedy “Burn After Reading” after reading an essay on how the film resembles the Petraeus scandal, and I’ve been keeping my eye on the film schedule at Proctors, because I’d like to see “The Wild Bunch” on the big screen.
Proctors is screening the American Film Institute’s top 100 films, which is a great idea and something I wholeheartedly support. But I have yet to attend a single screening, for a simple reason: I’ve seen all of those movies. And if I’m going to repeat myself, rather than expose myself to something different and new, there should be a good reason.
As a result, I hardly ever reread books, preferring to tackle works (and usually authors) that are new to me. I like to check out new venues for art and music, and read essays and articles that can introduce me to things I’ve never heard of or thought about before. I like to try different foods, and visit new restaurants and bars.
Just last week I enlisted my friend Monica in a quest to find a place to eat dim sum in the Capital Region and persuaded my friend Shannon to stop by The Flying Chicken, a new soul food restaurant in downtown Troy, for dinner.
The Flying Chicken has gotten some good reviews, and I was eager to try one of their signature dishes, fried chicken and waffles. I’d never eaten fried chicken and waffles before, and the concept intrigued me. But not all of my friends shared my interest. “That sounds gross,” they said. “Why would anybody want to eat that?”
It reminded me of the time I brought a bottle of absinthe home to Maine, thinking my family might enjoy imbibing the anise-flavored spirit and learning about the unusual rituals that accompany drinking it — about how you dilute the liquor by putting a slotted spoon on top of the glass, and slowly pouring ice cold water over a sugar cube placed upon the spoon. Instead, they regarded the absinthe with suspicion, reluctantly indulging me and my odd new interest, but ultimately setting their glasses aside and pouring themselves their usual drinks. They were too polite to use the word gross, but that’s clearly what they were thinking.
If there’s one lesson I keep relearning, it’s that not everybody wants things to be new and different all of the time. I once heard someone say that he enjoys eating at chain restaurants because he always knows what to expect, and I suspect a lot of people feel this way — after all, those restaurants tend to be popular and successful. And their sameness can provide a certain comfort.
When I lived in Birmingham, Ala., my friend Jamie and I often ate at Chili’s before going to the movies. He always ordered a steak, and I always ordered the chicken crispers. I grew to enjoy our little routine, but it didn’t change the fact that routine, as a general rule, tends to bore me.
Growing up, I wearied of my family’s Thanksgiving routine, which never seemed to change: We spent the holiday with friends from Pennsylvania, visiting Wednesday, eating on Thursday, taking a day trip to a museum or cultural institution on Friday, playing touch football on Saturday and saying goodbye on Sunday.
When I was in college, I was finally free to do whatever I wanted on Thanksgiving, and during my freshman year I stayed on campus in Ohio, celebrating with friends. The next year, I traveled to my friend Julianne’s Kentucky farm for the holiday. But something changed my junior year. Initially I wasn’t planning on going home. But then I discovered that a classmate from a neighboring town was driving back to New Hampshire, and I hitched a ride. On a whim, I decided to surprise my family. “How do you know they’ll be home?” my friends asked. “What if they decide to go away?”
“They won’t,” I said. “The schedule is the same every year.”
This unrelenting sameness, which had once struck me as a flaw, now seemed like a virtue.
I arrived home on Wednesday around dinnertime, which meant that everybody was at the Thanksgiving Eve service at church. I settled down on the couch and waited for them to trickle home, enjoying their double takes and exclamations of surprise. The next day we had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner, and I enjoyed the day trip on Friday and the football game on Saturday. For some reason, my family’s Thanksgiving traditions had stopped getting on my nerves.
As we enter this year’s holiday stretch, I’m sure I’ll find much to complain about and roll my eyes at.
But I find myself embracing family traditions more and more each year, and this year I was excited to eat turkey and cranberry sauce and pie, to go for a long walk on the beach after the meal, to watch football and relax by the fire. There will be plenty of time for crazy new discoveries when I get back to the Capital Region, such as fried chicken and waffles (which are quite good, I can assure you), but on Thanksgiving I was perfectly happy to do the same old things I always do, and I’m sure I’ll be perfectly happy to do them next year, too.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.