POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 24, 2008:
Hungry for Culture
Our guy goes exploring, face first
Being from rural Tennessee, many of my cultural introductions have involved food, as diversity isn't rural Tennessee's strong suit. On the other hand, eating is. Worldly vittles have been a window-shopping of sorts for me. The tip of the cultural iceberg. In the beginning, my understanding of world civilizations was elementary, but I'm ever evolving, like all of us.
"Yeah, I love Thailand. That Massaman curry is delicious," you'd have heard me say. There's nothing wrong with either of those sentences, but I can provide more evidence these days for Thailand's decency.
As I've aged, my cultural appreciation has grown to include more than just mole, crumpets, and sashimi.
Additionally, my father remarried into a Lebanese family, so my introduction to at least one culture came in my dad's own home. We should have videotaped that first dinner. The fear and confusion in my siblings' eyes has never been duplicated. Not for any of us. Foods we cherish today received some very unbecoming introductory scowls. I hope first impressions don't last a lifetime for inanimate objects. If so, hummus, and especially tabouli, I shower you with apologies. Neither of you could have been all that impressed with us.
Because of my many years feasting on what I now consider to be delectable Lebanese fare, I never pass up an opportunity for a falafel, baba ghanoush or, well, you get the idea. Especially when I don't have to do the preparation.
You're probably expecting me to launch into a diatribe related to Middle Eastern food, but I'm not going to do that. Yet. I don't really want to, and I'm more into a chronological recap of my weekend.
Before Sunday's ShalomFest 2008, I attended Saturday's IndiaFest 2008. Yes, a festival honoring the country of India.
Growing up, as my curiosity for various foods and peoples around the world grew, I naturally learned about the world's most populous democracy. Because I was more mature and Indian food is intensely savory, I was immediately hooked. From there, I pieced together various information I already knew with books I was studying to decide India was fascinating. It had nothing to do with me. India. Cool.
Had I attended an IndiaFest at that time in my life, it may have taken less time for me to reach that conclusion, but I finally got here between jumpshots, video games, and puberty. The next step is physically going to India, which I hope to do in the near future.
The festival, on Sat., Sept. 13 at Expo Square's Central Hall Park, was enjoyed by thousands of Tulsans. It was a celebration including henna tattoos, traditional dance, Sikhs, way too much balloon popping by the juveniles in attendance, and this rural Tennessean transplant.
For Cristi, it was a blissful Saturday. She has always loved traditional Indian footwear. She is enthralled with the tenets of Sikhism. Taught me a lot. And, her peacock-like henna tattoo not only is a display of her love of peacocks, but it is also the national bird of India. Two birds with one stone, girlfriend. Well done.
I made my way around the 28 booths representing the states of India. There were Sari draping lessons, a story telling booth, which, unfortunately, I thought I was too old for, and many religious faiths represented.
After taking notes and making my rounds at IndiaFest, I had worked up quite an appetite. Luckily, for me and all in attendance, the food had not only transformed the Central Hall Park into an olfactory dream, but it would later fill our bellies. Kolam, India Palace, and Desi Wok were all selling their food. I, unwisely because of the unforeseen wait, chose Kolam. After dropping $6 and standing in line for 20 or 30 minutes, because of a dosa shortage, I joined Cristi, a motley crew of college students, and senior women to enjoy my vegetable plate.
All the food looked tasty. Mine was. I will say it all appeared better on plates than it did semi-digested on the lips of the women sharing our table.
"These chicken drummettes" [pause for a chomp] "are delicious," one declared, hardly giving the chicken a chance to escape shredding. It was as if she'd never tasted chicken, which I later learned was not the case.
Maybe Desi Wok had a chicken shortage and she'd been waiting, much like me with my dosa. Dosas, Indian crêpes made of rice and lentils, aren't as messy as drummettes. Hell, I used my dosa as a napkin.
Once I had filled up on some of Kolam's finest, I decided to enjoy some of the traditional dancing. I've always enjoyed the hand movements during these dances. It really displays the attention to detail and the importance of distinct motility. There's nothing from my life to which I can directly compare it, so instead I admire.
I stayed long enough to know I didn't win any raffle prizes and to see Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi represented in the parade of the nation. There's really no way to top those extraordinary ambassadors, so I thought it was appropriate to leave. Plus, I had to be elsewhere.
On Sunday, after recouping from my trek around India, I made a stop at Temple Israel's ShalomFest. I have the first name for a ShalomFest and considered wearing a nametag to get some attention, but later backed off the idea.
It was a perfect day for ShalomFest. Half the festival was outdoors. The other wasn't. It was the 15th Annual ShalomFest, "a celebration of Jewish food, music, and art."
I began this festival a little differently than I did the previous day's. I ate first, plowing through a falafel and hummus. I was Sunday's version of Saturday's senior women. Then I enjoyed the sights and sounds. My digestive system was thankful.
I arrived just in time to enjoy some traditional Yiddish music and then got down to the Tulsa Klezmer Band. It's great music. And, I wasn't the only one getting down.
After my meal and some music, I observed a traditional Jewish wedding. It was my first. However, this was not my first exposure to a rabbi, so, like many of the other humorous rabbis I've encountered, I found myself chuckling my way through the ceremony.
The union was rather casual, but respectful and educational. I've been to several weddings and enjoyed this ceremony, between two strangers, much more than any of the others I've attended.
The event was the perfect fusion for Jews to enjoy their faith and traditions and for non-Jews to enjoy and learn about the faith and traditions of Judaism. It was well done. I'll be there next year for another falafel. I'm kicking myself for not getting one of those coffee cakes.
Again, this weekend's cultural events were both rich experiences--key to learning about something foreign to my own upbringing, yet fundamental to others. Our melting pot can only be strengthened by these traditions and cultural celebrations. Being able to attend and interact with such a diverse group of attendees is an opportunity we are all fortunate to have. As Tulsans, we should take it to learn about our neighbors and, in so doing, ourselves.
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