WEEKEND BRIEFING
Salad, Salad, Salad!

Apr. 30 - I have to deal with a tricky issue today: the question of American culture.

As part of our "relaxed" Friday program at Studieskolen, we've all been asked to bring in food or drink to share with the class. The expectation is that these consumables will relate somehow to our native cultures. Some of us, myself included, have also been asked to bring in something to talk about—this, too, should be culturally relevant.

What is American culture? Should I show up with a box of 20 McNuggets, a Miles Davis CD, and my Windows operating system? A bag of Doritoes, a liter of Coke, and a copy of the Constitution? A Winchester rifle and a six-pack of Bud? Or what?

For all the griping you hear in Europe about American culture, you rarely encounter a definition. When Europeans talk about America, they're telling you about themselves. That's not a swipe against Europeans: the same could be said of Americans. Our culture is a massive, amorphous, protean thing that can, with a little selective editorial attention, be portrayed as anything from the light of the world to the scourge of the earth.

(So, by my own Rorschach logic, I guess that makes me a "massive, amorphous, protean thing." In my case that's probably just a euphemism for "blinkered idiot," but I think the theory holds up either way.)

I envy my classmates. Italy can bring a bottle of wine, any number of lovely foods, and a tell us all about opera, fashion, and organized crime. Japan can bring some sake and sushi and tell us about Samurais, Godzilla, and microtechnology. As for Ireland—well, if she'd sober up long enough to make it through a whole class. . .

I'm obviously not serious. Not entirely. But it's fair to say that these other nationals enjoy an advantage that it's difficult to match as an American. Not only that, but they're allowed to take tremendous pride in their country. They're even expected to, up to a point (a point that France can be relied on to exceed).

I told the DMG I thought it would be nice to take advantage of the opportunity to serve as a kind of Goodwill Ambassador. I could begin by saying something like, "I'd like to spend a few minutes talking about all the really great, really cool, really helpful things America has done for the world."

When her laughter subsided she said merely, "No, really, what are you going to talk about?"

And of course she was right, but just imagine: would the following sentence be as laughable: "I'd like to spend a few moments talking about all the really great, really cool, really helpful things Italy has done for the world?" Substitute any country you like—it's only America that has that toxic sense, that laughable absurdism. Even "Vanuatu" or "The Seychelles" wouldn't produce a snicker: just rapt curiosity. Vanuatu? Really? Pray tell. . .

In case you're thinking, "But America has also done some horrible things to the world," remember that Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, and Hirohito (for example) were less than blessings. And America's worst sins—Dresden, Nagasaki, Hiroshima—need never have been committed had not the other horrors already been loosed.

So I'll probably do what I'm best at: keep the focus on me and make a merry ass of myself with a string of ludicrous and slightly-exaggerated personal anecdotes.

I'll tell you about it later this weekend on Moron Abroad.

* * *

It's Week 25 for the Bean. We're getting a very positive response to "Molli Malou" as a name. It seems to have a staying power that previous contenders lacked. We may finally have a winner.

Molli Malou herself is getting riotous in the womb. She seems to be especially active between 7-10pm each evening. The DMG got to see her on yet another scan Thursday, the first I wasn't able to share. I was bitterly jealous. Does that sort of jealousy endure past childbirth? Will I envy, for example, the DMG's breast-feeding bond with our daughter? Maybe. . . but probably only until we go shopping for nipple cream.

Dagens Ord

Today's word is sjov, which can mean either fun or funny: det var sjovt, for example, can mean "That was fun" or "that was funny" depending on the context. This is one of those words that makes life difficult for Danes speaking English: they get fun and funny confused. Imagine having an enjoyable roll in the hay with someone who afterwards turns to you and says, "That was funny!"

I'm here to tell you that it can and does happen.

Translation can be a funny thing—it can also be catastrophic to interpersonal relations.

Salad Days

Tomorrow is May. Spring is in full bloom. Tender blossoms exude their sweet fragrance as winter's bitter frosts recede. The warming air and diaphanous mists incite the passions and thoughts turn naturally to the ardor of spring—to love, rebirth, renewal, and salad.

You may not have known it, but in the United States May is National Salad Month. By an astonishing coincidence, the second full week of May is National Herb Week. It's a time to celebrate the verdure of the earth with verdure on a plate. Or in a bowl—salad is just that versatile!

Salad has a long and noble history. The word itself comes from the Latin "herba salta," which sounds like "urban assault" but actually means "salted herbs." They called their salads salted herbs because that's what they were: bits of leafy herbs dressed with salty oils.

The Romans weren't the first people to enjoy salad. Though it's hard to imagine, people were eating herbs and vegetables long before the invention of salad forks. Many of our evolutionary forebears ate leaves and veggies right off the plants, vines, and trees on which they grew. In fact, scientists believe our ancient grazing tendencies may explain the popularity of salad bars and our willingness to overlook the inadequacy of most sneeze guards.

The salad was not perfected, however, until the development of Bac-O Bits®, a genetically altered bacon substitute whose artificial bacon flavor and resistance to radiation have made it a staple of American salads, to say nothing of its cult popularity as driveway gravel.

According to the Association for Dressings and Sauces, the altruistic sponsors of National Salad Month, salad dressings and sauces have a history as rich and varied as salad itself. The Chinese have been using soy sauce for over five thousand years, the Babylonians used oil and vinegar, and Worcestershire was popular in Caesar's day. (Ironically, however, the Caesar salad was not invented by Julius Caesar. It wasn't even invented by Sid Caesar. It was invented by Caesar Cardini, a Mexican restauranteur, in 1924.)

The Egyptians favored oil and vinegar mixed with Oriental spices. Mayonnaise was invented by the Duke de Richelieu in 1756 after defeating the British at Port Mahon on Majorca (hence "Mahonnaise," later corrected to mayonnaise). The Duke was best known not for his military victories, however, but his all-nude dinner parties. I'm not going to speculate as to how a bunch of naked people got the idea of covering their salads in a creamy sauce.

(Around this time each year, well meaning but extremely annoying busybodies feel compelled to warn us about the dangers of mayonnaise exposed to the open air; happily, the good people at the Association of Dressings and Sauces have provided a streaming (RealMedia) online mayonnaise safety video.) In 1896, Joe Marzetti of Columbus, Ohio, opened a restaurant and served his customers a variety of dressings developed from old country recipes. His restaurant might have done better if he had served them actual meals, but his dressings became so popular that he started to bottle and sell them.

It was the birth of a market niche.

Half a century later, in 1950, Americans bought 6.3 million gallons of salad dressing. In 1997, they bought more than 60 million gallons. (This information is indisputable, because it appears on the Association of Dressings and Sauces's website.)

Since the United States had a population of about 260 million in 1997, it looks like the average American buys about 4.3 gallons of salad dressing each year. That's enough to drip a tablespoon per mile from New York to Chicago. I myself don't buy salad dressing, which means that some poor bastard has to buy 8.6 gallons each year to make up the difference. But it all comes out in the wash: I'm probably drinking his whiskey.

It's informative to note, however, that the Association of Dressings and Sauces measures salad dressing sold, not consumed. We've all seen salad dressing in the final stages of decomposition, the once creamy sauce crusting around the edges and congealing in the bottom of the bottle. Added up nationwide, that's got to be a few million gallons a year.

So it's not like we're pigs or anything.

National Salad Month comes but once a year, but celebrated correctly once should be enough.

Carnivorous readers disinclined to celebrate National Salad Month can choose from any of the following celebrations, all of which last the entire month of May: Allergy and Asthma Awareness Month, Arthritis Month, Better Hearing and Speech Month, Better Sleep Month, Breathe Easy Month, Correct Posture Month, Digestive Diseases Awareness Month, Hepatitis Awareness Month, High Blood Pressure Month, Huntington's Disease Awareness Month, Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month, Mental Health Month, National Barbeque Month, National Bike Month, National Egg Month, National High Blood Pressure Education Month, National Photo Month, National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, Neurofibromatosis Month, Older Americans Month, Osteoporosis Prevention Month, Sight-Saving Month, Stroke Awareness Month, Tuberous Sclerosis Awareness Month, and Trauma Awareness Month.

Those who like their celebrations a little shorter can choose from the following, all of which take place on the first full week of May: Be Kind to Animals Week, Goodwill Industries Week, National Family Week, National Pet Week, National Postcard Week, PTA Teacher Appreciation, and Small Business Week.

The second full week of May is not only National Herb Week (in the middle of National Salad Month—it's like a sign from God), but also Nurses Week, Hospital Week, National Tourism Week, and National Historic Preservation Week.

Furthermore, May 3 is International Tuba Day, May 12 is Limerick Day, May 13 is Astronomy Day, and May 16 is Biographers' Day.

Think how many birds you could kill with one stone by taking a picture of yourself riding a bike cross country under the stars while playing the tuba and juggling barbecued eggs, accompanied by a few nurses, teachers, biographers, pets, and tourists—especially if you're a stuttering old traumatized lunatic with indigestion and good posture.

So if you can't find something to celebrate next month, you're just not trying. As always, the Moron's Almanac reminds its readers to celebrate responsibly.

May Day

May 1 is recognized as May Day pretty much everywhere but the United States, Canada, and South Africa. Modern May Day celebrations throughout the world typically feature huge outdoor gatherings of people, brightly colored signs and banners, and a whole lot of tear gas.

The holiday has its root in the American labor movement of the 1880s, specifically the Haymarket tragedy of 1886. Depending on whom you ask, the Haymarket tragedy was either caused by overzealous cops with way too many guns, or overzealous anarchists with way too many bombs (i.e., one).

Actually, it no longer matters whom you ask, because all eyewitnesses would give you pretty much the same answer (i.e., none—they're dead).

Either way, nervous, well-armed cops and edgy, bomb-throwing anarchists are not a combination one encounters often in the annals of the Nobel Peace Prize. As a result, Americans ignore May Day and instead celebrate Labor Day, which features plenty of beer and barbecues and very little tear gas. We may be complacent, but dammit, we know what to do with a steak.

On May 1, 1961, Cuban leader Fidel Castro decided things were going along so well that he absolved the Cuban people of ever having to go through all the bother of another election.

On May 1, 1915, a thoughtful German government took out advertisements warning anyone on ships flying British flags that they did so at their own risk. That very day, the oceanliner Lusitania left New York, flying a British flag.

You do the math.

May 2

On May 2, 1729, Catherine the Great was born. More than any Russian head of state before her, she embraced a closer union with Europe. More than any Russian head of state to follow, she embraced a closer union with her horse.

Baron Manfred von Richtofen was also born on May 2, but in 1892. The World War I flying ace, better known to students of military history as the Red Baron, shot down over 80 enemy aircraft in World War I, sending dozens of handsome young men to fiery, terrible deaths and thereby earning himself a place in the Peanuts comic strip. (Which hardly excuses Snoopy's reprehensible bloodlust.)

Birthdays, Holidays, and All That Stuff

Willie Nelson turns 71 on April 30. He shares his birthday with Kirsten Dunst (1982), Isiah Thomas (1961), Jill Clayburgh (1944), Burt Young (1940), Cloris Leachman (1926), and Eve Arden (1908).

Kate Smith would have been 95 on May 1, which is also the birthday of Rita Coolidge (1945), Judy Collins (1939), Terry Southern (1924), Jack Paar (1918), and Glenn Ford (1916).

Catherine the Great's birthday of May 2 is shared by Bianca Jagger (1945), Engelbert Humperdinck (1936), Dr. Benjamin Spock (1903), Baron Von Richthofen (1892).

April 30 is the Queen's Birthday in the Netherlands, Walpurgis Night in Sweden, and Saigon Liberation Day in Vietnam.

May 1 is not only May Day, but also the Pagan holiday of Beltane, Flag Day in Austria, Patriots Victory Day in Ethiopia, and Constitution Day in the Marshall Islands.

May 2 is Sporting Holiday in Egypt.

Enjoy the weekend.

© 2004, The Moron's Almanac™

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